25 years on, Beijing, Seoul strive to move ties forward

By Da Zhigang Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/24 21:18:39

Thursday marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and South Korea. This is a good time for the two countries to review their cooperation since they established diplomatic relations, patch up their strained relations, and find a new outlook on future cooperation.

Over the past 25 years, China and South Korea have met with each other halfway to become a model of mutually beneficial cooperation in the process of globalization and regionalization, a cornerstone in safeguarding regional peace and stability and a showcase for flourishing cooperation on tourism and culture.

 In 1992 despite obstruction from various sides the two countries established diplomatic relations, a huge event in not only their diplomatic history, but also for Northeast Asia as a whole. Back then, handling inter-Korean relations was a tricky issue. China's decision was resented by North Korea and cast a shadow on China-North Korea relations. South Korea has been well aware of this and expressed gratitude. In most of the past 25 years, Seoul has always eyed the big picture in handling its ties with Beijing and endeavored to make bilateral relations go in a positive direction.

China-South Korea economic and trade cooperation has become a paradigm of how an emerging country cooperates with a developing one. Bilateral trade was $6.38 billion in 1992, and grew to $252.6 billion in 2016. South Korean investment in China increased to $4.75 billion in 2016 and in the same period China's investment in its neighbor reached $790 million from zero. It took the two countries less than 15 years to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion and 20 years to $200 billion. Last year, China became South Korea's biggest trading partner and source of foreign investment and international students.

The full-fledged bilateral cooperation was once a driving force for China's reform and opening-up, and helped South Korea maintain steady economic growth.

Over the past 25 years, China and South Korea have got along well as trading partners, neighbors and friends on the international stage. They worked together on the Six-Party Talks and the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative, which are designed to address North Korea's nuclear issue. Their actions and attitudes toward the Korean Peninsula and efforts in building these mechanisms and arrangements have highlighted the two countries' role in ensuring Northeast Asian geopolitical security and promoting peace.

By working together on issues like Japan's distorted view of "comfort women," the patriot An Jung-geun and history in textbooks, China and South Korea share a conscience and hold consensus in safeguarding international morality and order.

However, as South Korea's Park Geun-hye administration decided to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on its soil, its relationship with China has been strained significantly. This has considerably impacted bilateral cooperation on trade, investment, tourism and cultural exchanges. Although South Korean President Moon Jae-in made clear that he would consider the interests of China and the US, he has taken little action in this regard given his performance during 100 days in office.

It is unavoidable to have divergences between China and South Korea, and naturally Moon needs time to tackle the problems inherited from his predecessor. If Seoul can take the opportunity of the 25th anniversary to display sincerity in solving conflicts and find solutions, there could be a turnabout in its relationship with Beijing. If China and South Korea cooperate, their relationship will go smoothly. Otherwise, the bilateral ties will be in trouble and South Korea may pay a higher cost than China.

As neighbors, China and South Korea drifting apart from each other does not help to solve the problem, but instead will hamper bilateral cooperation. Beijing is willing to improve its relations with Seoul and has shown its cordiality in cooperative mechanisms like the Belt and Road initiative, but this requires a positive response from Seoul. Improving South Korea's relations with China has been a thorny issue for the Moon administration since the longer the THAAD controversy lasts, the harder it will be to improve bilateral ties.

China and South Korea have come through a golden 25 years of diplomatic relations. Whether they can have more such years to come can be inferred from the past, and China has made its attitude clear. It all depends on how South Korea solves the THAAD issue.

The two peoples prefer to see the bilateral relationship fare well with mutually beneficial cooperation.

The author is director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies, Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion

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