As ties with South Korea improve, China needs to be wary of impediments

By Wang Junsheng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/16 19:18:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

South Korea promised last month that it is not considering additional deployments of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, it would not participate in US-led missile defense networks, and that trilateral military cooperation between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo won't extend to a military alliance. The Sino-South Korean relationship is warming up. From Beijing's perspective, Seoul's promises are not ideal solutions, but China is still willing to take this opportunity to improve ties. China has always viewed the Beijing-Seoul relationship as a strategic one.

China has been South Korea's largest trading partner for years, and South Korea is the third largest trading partner of China. People-to-people exchanges between the two countries have been frequent.

Seoul is indispensable to addressing the Korean Peninsula issue, and the two countries are on the same page in the approach to resolving the crisis. Sino-South Korean cooperation is of pivotal significance to Northeast Asia's peace and stability. Given historical and territorial factors, Japan is unlikely to play the role of a stabilizer in the region; Russia focuses more on European affairs; and Mongolia is too small to handle regional issues. Therefore, the strategic significance of South Korea in the region is vital.

It is for this reason that China insists on the importance of Beijing-Seoul ties in addressing the THAAD issue and has been striving to improve relations with South Korea. President Xi Jinping immediately congratulated South Korean President Moon Jae-in when he took office on May 9. China has been utilizing all opportunities for multi-channel communications with South Korea, hoping both sides can make the right decisions that are important in history, improve bilateral ties and enhance contact among peoples.

South Korea's "three nos" are merely the beginning of warming of Beijing-Seoul relations, and more efforts should be put in to ensure the smooth development of ties.

To begin with, South Korea should fulfill its commitments. Seoul later reportedly told Washington the "three nos" are neither promises nor agreements. South Korea needs to explain this to China. Moreover, Seoul should be more accurate in the wording of the promises so as to avoid disputes in the future. Given the significance of Beijing-Seoul relations and the hit bilateral ties have taken over the THAAD issue, it's necessary South Korea make its intentions clear.

In addition, more efforts should be put in to prevent Sino-South Korean relations from being harmed by those with ulterior motives. Although stronger Beijing-Seoul ties are needed to jointly pressure North Korea on the nuclear issue, some in the US are concerned about the strategic aims of enhanced Sino-South Korean relations. In addition, some American scholars argue that the "three nos" may give the impression that China could interfere in the US-South Korea alliance, and this is what Washington is most concerned about. Hence it is likely that some American forces will try to disrupt Beijing-Seoul relations by deploying additional THAAD launchers or other strategic weapons that pose a threat to China.

Such intentions, if echoed by South Korean conservative forces, will surely affect the implementation of Moon's "three nos" and improvement of Sino-South Korean relations. The Moon administration should be wary of this.

Seoul's "three nos" pledges made no mention of the deployment of US strategic weapons in South Korea. During US President Donald Trump's visit to South Korea earlier this month, Washington and Seoul started negotiations on helping South Korea introduce and research sophisticated military equipment.

China totally understands South Korea's need to develop military weapons due to the insecurity triggered by North Korea, and has no reason to oppose the country's alliance with the US. However, if Washington-Seoul military cooperation goes beyond peninsula affairs and harms the interests of a third country, China will not remain silent. Washington's deployment of strategic weapons in South Korea, apart from deterring Pyongyang, is also a strategic threat to other major powers in the region. This will make China more anxious and threatens the healthy development of Sino-South Korean relations.

China and South Korea need to respect each other's interests and concerns. Relations have just started to warm up, and we hope the two countries can take each other's interests into consideration and meet halfway, bringing benefits to their peoples and the region.

The author is an associate research fellow at the National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


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