S.Korean delegation visits Japan for policy consultation, faces need to 'balance ties between China and US'
Published: Apr 25, 2022 10:42 PM
China Japan South Korea File photo:CGTN

China Japan South Korea File photo:CGTN

South Korea has moved to repair relations with its alliance partners - the US and Japan - amid tensions between Washington and Beijing, as President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol's policy consultation delegation met with Japan's top diplomat on Monday during an ongoing visit.

Chinese experts said that Yoon is seeking to rebuild the "US-Japan-South Korea triangle" to elevate its status in the international community, but it is very unlikely that he would sacrifice cooperation with China for that end. They warned Yoon of possible provocations by the US and Japan against South Korea developing friendly ties with China, which requires the new president to cautiously keep a balance.

The seven-member delegation, led by South Korea's Vice National Assembly Speaker Representative Chung Jin-suk, kicked off a five-day trip to Japan on Sunday.

The two countries agreed that the cooperative relationship should be closely maintained and strengthened, Chung said following a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Monday.

"Yoon wants to restore bilateral relations to their heyday as soon as possible and I made this clear to the foreign minister," Chung noted.

Hayashi said the two Asian countries need to develop ties based on friendship and cooperation, according to a Japanese government official.

The visit came ahead of Yoon's inauguration on May 10 and about 20 days after the first policy consultation delegation Yoon sent to the US in early April. 

Yoon had shown huge differences from President Moon Jae-in since the election. Yoon seeks to enhance the alliance with the US and rebuild the US-Japan-South Korea triangle to earn a bigger status in the international community and mend its relationship with Japan to improve bilateral economic and trade cooperation, Liu Jiangyong, vice dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Yoon also wants to show a tougher attitude toward North Korea, on which he needs support from the US and Japan, according to Liu. 

Japan would probably raise claims to ask South Korea to concur with it in suppressing North Korea, containing China and condemning Russia.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of China-South Korea diplomatic relations. The two countries made remarkable improvements in cooperation in the past 30 years and cooperation is good for both sides. Yoon would not want to sacrifice Seoul's relationship with Beijing for the alliance with the US and Japan, Liu said.

But Liu warned of provocations from the US and Japan against South Korea's relationship with China, which requires Yoon to cautiously keep a balance.

Continuing tensions between the US and China could be an opportunity and a risk, Yoon was quoted as saying in an interview The Wall Street Journal published on Monday. Yoon said he believes there are ways to ensure peace, co-prosperity and co-existence with the two countries.

The relationship between China and South Korea has never been a zero-sum, winner-takes-all game like in Squid Game, but a neighborhood that helps each other and shares weal and woe like in Reply 1988, Chinese Ambassador to South Korea Xing Haiming said earlier this month, calling on the two countries to push for more mature and stable bilateral ties.

According to media reports, the delegation to Japan on Monday also discussed the two governments' historical feud stemming from Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula in a meeting with a cross-party group of Japanese lawmakers.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is also arranging a meeting with the delegation, according to sources with knowledge of the matter. 

The South Korean delegation also plans to meet with former prime ministers Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga, media said. 

Experts warned that Japan probably would take advantage of the delegation's visit to require Yoon to concede on the historical issues between the two sides, such as the "comfort women" issue.

But Chinese experts would not expect Yoon to take too big a concession on the two countries' historical issues as this would make Yoon face a huge backlash from Koreans, which is a risk Yoon would not dare take, given his narrow margin of victory.