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Recovery of S. Korea–China relationship

Posted November. 01, 2017 08:45,   

Updated November. 01, 2017 08:57


As tensions over THAAD between South Korea and China has been resolved on Monday, the two countries will hold a bilateral summit during the APEC Summit, scheduled to be held in Vietnam from Nov. 10 to Nov. 11. It is good news that the two sides have agreed to speedily normalize exchanges and cooperation in all sectors in 15 months since the announcement of the THAAD deployment. Nevertheless, Seoul and Beijing are likely to face many challenges before fully recovering their relationship.

There cannot be complete victory or complete defeat in diplomatic settlement, which thaws tension. The settlement this time also leaves many unsolved problems. Depending on how these problems are resolved, tensions may either alleviate or amplify. In particular, how Seoul and Beijing coordinate and cooperate in solving North Korea’s nuclear issue may make or break the success of their agreement. China should no longer turn a blind-eye towards North Korea anymore as it was also under the nuclear and missile threat of the North. It seems that South Korea’s diplomatic security team, which is assessed to be weak, has a more difficult and complex problem to solve in the days coming ahead.

Next week, U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit South Korea, China and Japan to hold a series of summit, not to mention the APEC Summit, where the heads of four countries will all participate. Risk of collision between the United States and North Korea as a result of continuous nuclear and missile provocations of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the resolute position of President Trump, has come to a lull for more than one month. However, the U.S.’ pressure against the North is likely to persist as U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated on Monday that military actions against the North is “possible without the approval of the congress.” The basis of the U.S. position towards North Korea will become clearer during Mr. Trump’s visit.

South Korean presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae immediately stated Monday, “We have normalized the interrupted diplomacy, recovered behind the curtains contact channels and even solved pending issues.” It has not been long since a high-ranking official and President Moon Jae-in expressed a sense of helplessness, saying, “North Korea policy should be dealt for the long term. There is not much I can do,” respectively, during North Korea’s sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3.

Some people criticize that there is a sign that the South Korean government was so overanxious to normalize the relationship that it gave up its sovereignty over security. Some part of the agreement is vague, which states that China re-declared concerns over building a missile defense system (MD), additional deployment of THAAD and military cooperation with South Korea, the United States and Japan whereas South Korea re-explained its public position of up until now. Nevertheless, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said at a parliamentary audit, “South Korea will not consider additional deployments of THAAD or participate in the U.S.-led MD, and that there shall not be any developments in military alliance of South Korea, the United States and Japan. It would be concerning if the minister’s “promise of three Nos” came immediately after the closed-door talks with China.

It is also a problem that there was no mentioning over THAAD retaliation during the process of Monday’s negotiation. China’s retaliation measures are closely linked to a large part of China’s policy to foster and protect domestic industry. It is inevitable for China, which has entered the stage of high growth, to substitute sectors that are entered by foreign companies with domestic ones. There is no guarantee that China will not carry out a “second round of THAAD retaliation.” However, the South Korean government was busy walking on eggshells that it even gave up suing China to the World Trade Organization for the nation’s THAAD retaliation.

President Moon Jae-in should make the most out of a series of summits ahead of him and demonstrate his diplomatic ability to pressure North Korea into dialogues. The strategic cooperative relationship between South Korea and China can only by fully achieved when Seoul can draw mutual assistance with Beijing over North Korea’s nuclear issues.