South Korea and China did not hold a bilateral summit talk, even with all eyes on whether they would talk to each other during the APEC meeting held in San Francisco. Although the South Korean government said that it tried to arrange a meeting until the day before the closing of the APEC event, it was reportedly that the Chinese government did not respond. There was only a brief exchange of words for three minutes between South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Chinese President Xi Jinping when they encountered each other at an APEC venue.
China left out South Korea while having summit talks with other major regional nations such as the United States and Japan. It even held bilateral talks with Brunei, Fiji, and other countries but did not include South Korea on the list. Amid the growing concerns about the lack of momentum in their effort to improve their relations, a trilateral summit among Seoul, Beijing, and Tokyo will likely be put forward. However, it is expected to be held later this year. Inevitably, there will be some disruption in the South Korean government’s plan to start a conversation in a trilateral meeting this year and invite Xi to have a bilateral talk in Seoul next year.
Even with the two countries’ relations being soured for a long time, there were high expectations of recovering their relations as Seoul started trying to address its diplomatic relations with China. Likewise, polls said it is time to pay attention to China, given some progress made in the KORUS alliance and the trilateral relationship among South Korea, the United States, and Japan. Indeed, there were some signs of recovery when South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo had a face-to-face meeting with President Xi on the occasion of the opening ceremony of the Hangzhou Asian Games in September, and the Chinese leader gave a positive reply saying that he would consider visiting Seoul. It is a worrisome development made in their discussion following the high-ranking level talks with some positive signs of recovery.
Beijing may be unable to expand its diplomatic efforts due to the ongoing strategic warfare with Washington outside the country and the slowing domestic market. However, it is not the right time for Beijing to put Korean Peninsula issues on the back burner. After all, North Korea is likely to launch another spy satellite no later than the end of this month with the help of Russian technology. China also feels an urgency to secure supply chains for mineral resources.
China should show sincerity in engaging in discussions with South Korea, including a summit, so they can cooperate in dealing with bilateral concerns and producing practical results. At the same time, South Korea needs to refine an agenda for the sake of each other’s interest and rationale. Also, it can bring back momentum at a foreign ministerial meeting with China and Japan scheduled next Sunday.