How will Sino-South Korean ties progress?

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/13 20:38:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Editor's Note:

As South Korean President Moon Jae-in embarked on a visit to Beijing on Wednesday, people hope the Sino-South Korean bilateral relationship will be restored. On Monday, the Charhar Institute and the Korea National Diplomatic Academy held a forum in Beijing to discuss the current and future Sino-South Korean bilateral relationship. The Global Times has collected the opinions of five experts who spoke at the forum.

Lü Fengding, a member of the Foreign Policy Advisory Group of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have simmered for a long time. Since assuming office, US President Donald Trump has exchanged bombastic rhetoric with his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un. While Pyongyang is stepping up its missile tests, Washington and Seoul are intensifying their joint drills, ratcheting up more tensions on the already-strained situation on the peninsula. The vicious circle of confrontation seems to be continuing.

How the North Korean nuclear crisis will evolve should be observed in a calm manner. There are three possibilities - war, negotiation or that the disputes will drag on.

It's highly likely that the disputes will drag on. Pyongyang, feeling insecure and being somewhat arrogant, will not easily abandon its nuclear ambitions. The international community has long regarded North Korea as politically unstable, and expects internal strife in the country, which is unlikely at present. Washington is constantly shifting its Pyongyang policy, and its sincerity in addressing the North Korean nuclear issue and associating with Pyongyang is still to be seen. South Korea's policy toward the North will also exert tremendous effects on the peninsula situation.

Sino-South Korean cooperation is increasingly important and prominent amid the escalation of tensions. Regional peace and stability conforms to the interests of both Beijing and Seoul, and plays a vital role in their security and development. Countries outside the region won't have the same feelings as China and South Korea about a war on the peninsula, and cannot accurately calculate the aftereffects of such a war if it breaks out. Therefore, China and South Korea must stay clear-minded and strengthen negotiations and collaborations. Joint efforts to prevent conflicts from escalating are of foremost importance.

To intensify negotiations on the Korean Peninsula issue, Beijing and Seoul should build mutual trust and expand cooperation. South Korea should take China's suspension-for-suspension proposal into serious consideration. China has expressed its utmost sincerity and made tremendous efforts to maintain peace and stability on the peninsula. As a major power, the US should particularly exercise restraint, given the seriousness of the issue. Any aggressive behavior isn't helpful to ease tensions.

In addition, China and South Korea should cherish and attach great importance to the already-reached consensus on the issue of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system installation. Both sides should prevent the THAAD disputes from relapsing, which may exert further negative effects on Beijing-Seoul bilateral relations and the peninsula situation. The two countries should also stay vigilant to external influence, safeguard their core interests, and maintain their initiative and cooperative framework in addressing the peninsula issue.

Zhao Kejin, deputy director of the Center for Sino-US Relations at Tsinghua University

Northeast Asia may encounter two different futures. One is a future of conflicts and war, and the other is one of joint development.

The reason why there may be conflicts and war is because the current situation in the region is caused by geopolitical divergences. It may lead to wars and conflicts as long as certain countries want to control or dominate the region. The geopolitical reality in the region brings two limitations to the relationship between China and South Korea.

The first limitation comes from the US-South Korea alliance. As long as the alliance is sustained, Sino-South Korean relations will face restraint. The second is the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue. When tensions on the peninsula are still on a precipice, Sino-South Korean relations will not develop very much despite bilateral communications.

So we need to get rid of the geopolitical limitations and cooperate together. China knows exactly why South Korea installed THAAD and South Korea knows well why China opposes it. But they don't voice this. It led to South Korea's underestimation of China's determination to oppose it while China also underestimated South Korea's intention to install it. Then it caused serious damage to the rapidly developing bilateral relations at that time.

To develop the bilateral relationship, we need to speak openly and honestly, especially during Moon's visit to Beijing. China and South Korea should speak out against war together. As long as both countries oppose war, it will benefit the peace process and development in Northeast Asia.

On regional cooperation, China and South Korea should make a first step and enterprises from the two countries can be at the forefront. We can promote deep cooperation between China's Huawei and South Korea's Samsung Group to guide regional cooperation in Northeast Asia.

Chung Sang-ki, director of the Center for Chinese Studies, Korea National Diplomatic Academy

First, we need to stop North Korea from making any further provocations and it is important for China to act positively in this matter.

When we say problems have emerged over Sino-South Korean relations, it actually means we need a mechanism to manage the differences. To avoid such problems spreading to other fields, we need to establish a mechanism to deal with them. We should work together for the sake of the development of East Asia.

Looking at the trade from January to September this year, imports and exports all grew and the number is much bigger than that of last year. It shows that people from the two countries need communication and they indeed wish for more communication.

The relationship between China and South Korea may also encounter problems in the future and the fundamental issue is how we solve these problems. We should not allow what happened over the last year to happen again, when we both pushed pressure onto each other.

The two countries can learn from each other. We always stressed we wished to increase communication, but did we achieve that? Many South Koreans know Chinese history well but did not know about the developments of China in the past 30 years. Chinese also have similar problems in that they don't know much about modern South Korean history, so they didn't understand the THAAD situation very well. The reason why we always talk about the same topic and meet the same problems is that we do not know enough about each other.

Lee Nam-ju, a professor of Chinese studies at Sungkonghoe University

The current strains in the Sino-South Korean relationship do not originate from disputes between the two countries, but are a result of divergent ideas and policies by third parties, including the US and North Korea on the Korean Peninsula issue. The North Korean nuclear crisis is a historical problem, and it's not easy to settle it in the short term.

But it's worth noting that China and South Korea have the pursuit of economic interests in common, which is a boon to their relationship.

Therefore, the two countries in the future should properly handle their divergences and prevent these from affecting their collaborations.

In the long term, peace on the Korean Peninsula is a prerequisite to healthy Sino-South Korean ties. History suggests that the more unstable the situation becomes, the more unpredictable Beijing-Seoul relations will be, on which both China and South Korea have reached consensus. The two countries hold identical positions on the maintenance of peace and don't want to see an outbreak of war in the region, yet their approaches to peace are different. Regrettably, there were only a few discussions in this regard between Beijing and Seoul in the past.

Li Chunfu, an associate professor at the Faculty of the Zhou Enlai School of Government, Nankai University

North Korea declared last month that with the successful test of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile the country had "finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force." On the one hand, it may be more difficult for Pyongyang to take further provocative actions in the future, and the country's missile tests are unlikely to be carried out as frequently as before. But on the other, if no breakthrough is seen on the crisis, North Korea may use technological development as an excuse to continue its provocative tests. Pyongyang's declaration of being a full nuclear state is mainly targeted at Washington, kicking the ball back to Trump. 

Kim's 2018 New Year speech deserves particular attention. After having "completed the state nuclear force," North Korea may take the initiative to launch a "peace offensive." Pyongyang is still being sanctioned, but the country has started to explore the likelihood of communications after the Hwasong-15 launch. North Korea is reported to have told a senior UN envoy about its hope of preventing a nuclear war. The International Olympic Committee, the UN and the international community are actively creating favorable conditions for North Korea to participate in the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Seizing the opportunity to talk is of vital importance.

Despite sanctions, North Korea's economy is seeing an upward trend after Kim delegated powers to farmers and workers in the country's agricultural and industrialization reforms. The quota system that allows farmers to keep between 30 to 60 percent of their crops means the economy has largely recovered. From this perspective, Kim has won himself more popularity among the North Korean public.

Long-term sanctions may lead to the following consequences. The escalation of the crisis may raise the possibility of war, which neither China nor South Korea is willing to see.

North Korea itself doesn't know the tipping point where it cannot withstand the sanctions. All parties concerned should be clear-minded regarding the effects of the sanctions.

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