Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi returned to his home country on Friday after spending three days in South Korea. Despite a short stay, he met with many important figures in South Korea, including its president, the speaker of the National Assembly, and the leading members of the ruling party. He was late for a meeting with the South Korean foreign minister by 25 minutes. While broad plans for bilateral cooperation were discussed between the two countries during his visit, there was no progress made in key issues, including China’s restrictions on the Korean wave content.
The purpose of Wang’s visit to South Korea seems to have been to gauge a neighboring country’s current atmosphere and for diplomatic management in the face of the U.S.’ change of administration – nothing more, nothing less. While the Chinese side listed 10 items as agreements between the two countries, the list did not include any key agenda. Wang also said Chinese President Xi Jinping’s possible visit to South Korea would require the complete containment of the COVID-19 virus. He put pressure on the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) issue by demanding its withdrawal while only responded to South Korea’s request to lift the restrictions on the Korean wave content, which was a retaliatory measure against the deployment of THAAD, by saying that he hopes for continuous communication.
China has been suffering all-around attacks by the Trump administration. Such tensions between the U.S. and China are likely to continue under the Biden administration, according to many experts. China is putting a lot of effort into diplomacy with South Korea and Japan, which are the allies of the U.S., so that the neighboring countries won't side with the anti-China stance. Even during this visit, Wang emphasized economic integration among South Korea, China, and Japan and requested South Korea to join the Global Initiative on Data Security, which was set up to fight the U.S.' bans on Chinese information technologies and businesses.
The U.S.-China relations under Biden’s lead is hard to predict. Except for President Trump, all U.S. presidents who harshly criticized China during the election period focused on trade expansion with China once they took the office. The Biden-style internationalism based on rules and values will exercise its influence on China with meticulous systematic plans, rather than the Trump-style trade war. A formation of a value-based initiative, such as a ‘democracy summit,’ may put South Korea at the crossroads of unavoidable choices.
“America is not the only nation in the world,” Wang said, which means pressure on South Korea not to side with the U.S. However, China is not the only country in East Asia, either. The country will lose its ground if it continues its shameful diplomatic tactics by controlling other countries’ access to the large Chinese market. China should reflect on why some say that Chinese officials visiting South Korea act like an envoy of an emperor.