China-South Korea cooperation in health, people-to-people exchange a model to the world: South Korean ambassador
Unity of will
Published: Dec 07, 2020 05:43 PM

South Korean Ambassador to China Jang Ha-sung Photo: Courtesy of Embassy of South Korea in China

Editor's Note:

Some say China-South Korea relations have improved through both countries' survival of the COVID-19 pandemic. The newly signed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is expected to further strengthen trade and bilateral ties. Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi's visit to Seoul from November 25 to 27 also deepened the strategic cooperation between the two neighbors.

But it remains to be seen if US President-elected Joe Biden's diplomatic policy will drag South Korea into an alliance confronting China. In a written interview with Global Times reporters Shan Jie and Bai Yunyi (GT), South Korean Ambassador to China Jang Ha-sung (Jang) discussed China and South Korea's joint efforts confronting the pandemic, the Korea-China-Japan FTA and increasing people-to-people exchanges.

GT: Chinese foreign minister visited South Korea in November. How does South Korea see the success of his visit? Can we expect more exchanges and visits of the top leaders of our two countries?

Jang: Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Seoul in November 25-27 this year, only a year after he visited Seoul last December 2019. This marked the first ROK-China Foreign Minister's meeting since COVID-19 was labeled a pandemic.

During this visit, State Councilor Wang Yi had an official bilateral meeting and a luncheon with his counterpart South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyunghwa and made a courtesy call to President Moon Jae-in. Through these occasions, the governments of the ROK and China were able to have an in-depth exchange of views on matters of mutual interest.

The most important [achievement] is that the two governments agreed that even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the two countries need to continue to promote people-to-people exchanges by expanding the fast track procedure and increasing flights, while maintaining measures for disease prevention and control.

In particular, the fast track procedure for businesspeople, which was established in early May this year, is an exemplary case of cooperation between the two countries. Indeed, it has clearly contributed to expanding economic cooperation between the two countries despite the global pandemic.

Even though we are now looking at a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, with the common understanding of the significance of the fast-track procedure, the two governments agreed to maintain and gradually expand the application of the expedited entry procedure.

Through benefits of these measures, we can expect increased people-to-people exchanges which will then expand the economic cooperation.

Secondly, as we prepare to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, both in 2022, the two governments agreed to launch the "Year of the ROK-China Cultural Exchanges" in 2021 and 2022, which was agreed upon by the leaders of the two countries last year

Of course, the two sides need to have further consultations on the details and take the COVID-19 situation into consideration when planning. But it will prompt the resumption and expansion of people-to-people exchanges and cultural exchanges between the two countries in a range of areas including games, films and tourism.

Moreover, the two sides concurred on the value of high-level exchanges between the leaders and high ranking officials of the two countries, and agreed to further promote these. Active communication between the two countries is of great importance in making progress in the ROK-China strategic cooperative partnership and further deepening the future-oriented ties.

There are also hopes that a senior official's visit to South Korea may take place as soon as the COVID-19 situation is stabilized and the conditions are ready.

The two sides also agreed to strengthen trilateral cooperation [between] the ROK, China and Japan against the backdrop of the fluid regional and global situations, and to continue to work together to hold a trilateral summit as soon as possible.

GT: Would the change of president in the US bring changes to the Korean Peninsula? Do you think the peninsula will return to the state of "conflict"?

Jang: Even during the transition period of the US administration, the government of Republic of Korea continues its diplomatic efforts, in close cooperation with major countries such as China and the US to maintain the stability of Korean Peninsula, and foster an environment to resume talks for the permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.

GT: You have witnessed and experienced the COVID-19 outbreaks in China and South Korea this year and must have your personal observations and feelings. Could you share them?

Jang: Since early this year, not only ROK and China, but the whole world was greatly impacted by COVID-19, [though] especially our two countries have supported each other in order to overcome the COVID-19 crisis. President Moon Jae-in expressed [his] support and encouragement for China with a warm message that "China's difficulties are also Korea's difficulties," which was mentioned during his phone conversation with President Xi Jinping. I myself conveyed my heartfelt wish that China would indeed successfully overcome COVID-19 in an article to the Renmin Ribao (People's Daily).

In response, President Xi commented that "a good neighbor is more precious than gold" and the Chinese Embassy in Seoul quoted a poem written by Mr. Choe Chiwon, a noted Korean philosopher in the 9-10th century who had studied for many years in China during the Tang Dynasty. The poem reads, "Distance cannot separate us, and we live in one world."

Furthermore, the two countries have also held "a dialogue on disease control against COVID-19" twice and shared their respective experiences in dealing with the pandemic and finding ways to cooperate with each other.

Based on achievements in the fight against COVID-19, China was able to successfully hold "Two Sessions" in late May, and proceeded with the policy to "resume work and production" vigorously. Accordingly, the Chinese economy was able to achieve 3.2 percent and 4.9 percent growth in the second and third quarters of the year respectively. Among the world's major economies, China was the only one to achieve positive growth.

In case of Korea, we were pushing forward a disease prevention policy based on three principles - openness, transparency, democracy. Hence, the current COVID-19 situation has been put under control. Also Korea has been able to maintain the highest economic growth among OECD nations.

Meanwhile, I am focusing on the "dual circulation" policy, which has been suggested in "the 14th Five Year Plan" published when the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee took place in late October. The policy represents the Chinese determination to strengthen the domestic market and to continue to open its market to attract more international trade and investment.

And I believe the "dual circulation" will provide a new opportunity for the relationship between ROK and China. In particular, when the Korean enterprises expand their export to the enlarged Chinese domestic market after this strategy, the economic relationship between the two will become much closer.

Next year, I will continue to work to expand the exchanges between local governments of the two countries and actively cooperate with Chinese local governments in order to support the entry of Korean enterprises into the Chinese domestic market.

GT: Facing the pandemic, how have the governments in China and South Korea been making efforts in keeping up economic ties, trade links and people-to-people exchanges between each other?

Jang: First of all, South Korea and China introduced the "fast track procedure," which alleviates obstacles to the entry of businesspeople on both sides so as to guarantee essential economic activities. Since early May, when ROK and China started to apply this procedure, more than 10,000 people in the business community have traveled between Korea and China. Such examples of cooperation between the ROK and China are setting good examples for the rest of the international community in countering this pandemic.

And since late August, the Chinese government has resumed issuing entry visas to Koreans including students and employees following an agreement reached between the two governments. All these measures contribute to alleviating difficulties [in] their studies, business activities and daily lives caused by COVID-19 and the restrictions it brings.

To accommodate the increased number of people traveling between the two countries after these measures, the two governments have started to closely work together to expand the number of regular and temporary flights between the two countries. Now the number of regular flights has increased significantly, and it is the most among weekly international flights to China.

GT: The Chinese and South Korean foreign ministers both agreed to build a health and anti-epidemic cooperation mechanism in Northeast Asia. What kind of mechanism will it be and can it serve as a model of cooperation to the world during the pandemic?

An individual country cannot overcome a global health crisis, such as the ongoing COVID-19 [pandemic], on its own. In order to overcome COVID-19, cooperation among neighboring countries with thriving people-to-people and economic exchanges are of tremendous importance. As the Chinese saying goes, "Unity of will is an invincible stronghold." We will be able to overcome the crisis by consolidating our efforts.

In this context, President Moon Jae-in, in his address to the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, called for the launch of "Northeast Asia Cooperation Initiative for Infectious Disease Control and Public Health." State Councilor Wang Yi also appreciated the objectives of the initiative and expressed his support on the occasion of his visit to South Korea recently.

Under this mechanism, in the short term, countries in the region will be able to share knowledge and views on how to effectively cooperate and coordinate responses to the pending challenges posed by COVID-19.

In addition, from a long-term perspective, the cooperation initiative will serve to prevent other emerging infectious diseases and transboundary risks to public health, allowing countries to minimize the social-economic shocks and develop the capabilities in controlling the crisis situation.

The initiative will also trigger dialogue and cooperation in the process of establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula. If North Korea participates as a member, the mechanism will serve as an important platform for international community in engaging in communication and cooperation with North Korea.

Therefore, the ROK will try its utmost to develop the initiative as a model architecture that guarantees collective protection of health security and peace in the region, along with China and other member countries. In order to achieve this, the South Korean government is hoping for support and cooperation from the Chinese government.

GT: China and South Korea recently both joined the RCEP. How will it further promote economic cooperation between the two countries and trade deals under negotiation like the FTA between China, South Korea and Japan?

RCEP is the world's largest FTA in terms of trade volume, GDP, and population. The RCEP agreement is significant in that the level of norms and openness has been raised in general, by adopting a common rule of origin among 15 parties of RCEP. I expect further economic cooperation between Korea and China to be promoted in the future as regional trade among RCEP countries expands and the value chain becomes more connected.

In order to strengthen bilateral economic cooperation, it is also necessary to accelerate the "second-phase FTA negotiations" which would create a favorable environment where the two countries can trade more freely in areas of investment, goods and services.

The South Korea-China-Japan FTA is basically aimed at the higher level of RCEP plus, and with the recent conclusion of RCEP, I believe that it has laid the foundation for accelerating the South Korea-China-Japan FTA negotiations. I hope that the three countries will work together to promote a mutually beneficial FTA of an even higher level.

GT: After Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in September that China will reach carbon neutrality in 2060, South Korean President Moon Jae-in last month said his country will achieve the goal of carbon neutrality in 2050. How can East Asia work together in cutting carbon emissions? Are there any cooperation plans already?

Jang: Since 1999, the Republic of Korea, China, and Japan, have held the TEMM (Tripartite Environment Ministers Meeting) on an annual basis. It was initially proposed by Korea, and the countries have worked closely together to address important regional and international environmental issues such as air pollution and climate change response.

TEMM-21, held last year, selected eight priority areas, including climate change response, for the cooperation between the three countries after 2020. And with the countries having declared the goal of carbon neutrality, the three countries will adopt at the TEMM next year a "Joint Action Plan" including policy and technical cooperation to achieve carbon neutrality.

GT: How do you see the China-South Korea relations in the post-pandemic era?

Jang: Even in the midst of the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, the Republic of Korea and China have been closely working together, and developing various mutually beneficial systems, such as "the fast track system for business people" and "chartered airplane." Forms of cooperation during the hard times have exerted a positive influence in terms of promoting the development of our bilateral ties.

Such instances of cooperation between the ROK and China can, I believe, set an admirable example for the international community in the efforts to counter COVID19.

With these achievements, it is expected that "ROK-China strategic cooperative partnership" will be further deepened and be more future-oriented in post-COVID19 era compared to pre-COVID19.

The year 2022 holds particular meaning. It is the year of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, but also the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between ROK and China. It will give us a great opportunity to upgrade our bilateral relationship.

Against this backdrop, I and all the staff in the Embassy of ROK to China are now planning to hold a whole range of events next year. We are very eager to generate as many opportunities as possible to bring the peoples of our two countries together.

And I am glad to take this opportunity to invite the attention of our friends in China to events that will be hosted by the Korean Embassy and Consulates-General around the country.

During State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi's visit to Seoul, the two foreign ministers agreed to establish a "committee for future development of ROK-China relations" to map out a plan for developing the bilateral ties. This committee will be entrusted with the task of mapping out a plan for the development of the bilateral ties. This committee, bringing together experts from the private sector of the two countries, will nurture a whole range of initiatives for the bolstering of the bilateral ties in the three decades to come.

And on this occasion I would like to make it known that the Embassy is always fully open to hear any good ideas or proposals that people might have that would bring our two nations even closer together.

GT: China and South Korea will start making arrangements for the China-ROK culture exchange year in 2021 and 2022, and the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties. What kind of activities can we expect?

Recently, more and more Koreans have a keen interest in Chinese cuisine, like malatang and mala xiangguo. I believe that the launch of the "ROK-China Cultural Exchange Year in 2021 and 2022" will generate valuable momentum for the peoples of our two countries to gain an even deeper appreciation of our respective cultures.

I strongly believe that the mutual exchanges, the bonds of friendship between our two peoples can pave the way for the further development of our bilateral relationship. In this regard, the Korean government has cooperated closely with local governments in China for the arrangement of various cultural exchange programs between our two countries. Indeed, since taking up the role of South Korea's Ambassador to China in April 2019, I was delighted to be able to visit at least one Chinese province a month. It was such a pleasure to have the chance to meet more and more local Chinese people. I also gave a number of lectures to Chinese university students on the importance of the relationship between our two countries.

Even though it was quite difficult to hold events or visit Chinese provinces this year due to the pandemic, I found some opportunities to visit Yancheng in September, Hefei in October, Shenyang in November as COVID-19 situations stabilized in China. This was to actively encourage more people-to-people exchanges between our two countries with the active support and cooperation of the Chinese provincial and municipal governments.

Of course we will need to take into consideration the COVID-19 situation, but in 2021 when the "ROK-China cultural exchange year" begins, the South Korean Embassy in Beijing is planning to hold various meaningful events to accelerate bilateral exchanges of our two peoples. We will indeed spare no effort to warmly celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with peoples of the two countries altogether in the year 2022.

It's still my personal wish but if the COVID-19 situation can be effectively controlled, I am hoping to find new ways to meet the travel needs of peoples of the two countries at least during the Beijing Winter Olympics.

And finally I would like to emphasize the importance of the role of the media in fostering the bonds of friendship between countries. It is important to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding. Accurate reports grounded in truth and mutual respect will serve to foster a deeper sense of mutual understanding.