Read more in Daily Special: President Xi pays first visit to South Korea
Chinese President Xi Jinping
kicks off his two-day visit to South Korea today. It is the only country included in Xi's schedule, and this visit comes before possible meetings between Chinese and North Korean leaders. Besides showcasing the close relationship between Beijing and Seoul, it also generated some speculations about why China prioritizes the South above the North.
In the eyes of China, South Korea has many identities. It is a typical neighboring country of China. It ranks high in trade with China. It is also a US ally. Meanwhile, it serves as an example of transforming from a developing country to a developed one. With the cooling down of Sino-Japanese relations, South Korea has become the biggest exporter of East Asian pop culture to China.
Both the Chinese government and the public attach high importance to South Korea. For the government and strategists, South Korea is one of the countries that best handles its relations with both the US and China. Although Seoul and Tokyo are both Washington allies, the US-Japan alliance is obviously aimed at China and Japan has been actively highlighting this. But South Korea is willing to act as a buffer between China and the US rather than avail itself of opportunities to deepen their frictions.
From strategic point of view, South Korea is a vital pillar of China's periphery policies. China also matters to the future of South Korea.
The Chinese and South Korean public have shown interest in each other, while mutual exchanges have experienced ups and downs. The two sides trade and communicate, while often mocking each other to maintain their pride.
Sino-South Korean relationship has been stable, but frictions between public opinions may also pop up. For example, the South Korean public has denounced China on issues such as North Korean defectors, while Chinese netizens mocked the opinions of their counterparts such as "Confucius was a South Korean."
The already tight bilateral relations have to experience tough tests in this globalized era. There are many countries which have kept a watchful eye on the relationship that they believe matters their interests.
It is possible that bilateral relations may undergo some turbulence, as the past few years have witnessed some misunderstandings that contributed to uncertainties in this relationship.
Currently, the situation in Northeast Asia is intricate and complex, while Beijing-Seoul ties have been particularly thriving. They could have easily picked up a fight, but both ultimately remained restrained. This will be an inspiring lesson for China to deal with its relations with its neighbors.
China's own attractiveness has been affected by outside factors, which may shake our confidence. The US pivot to Asia strategy has been in full swing in East Asia, making China impossible to have a single-minded approach in dealing with its neighbors. There is no shortcut in China's diplomacy. We need to be sober in facing the challenges in the Northeast, the East China Sea and the South China Sea.