China, Japan and S.Korea should meet, exchange and cooperate more frequently
Published: May 26, 2024 06:52 PM
File Photo

File Photo

Editor's Note:

The ninth China-Japan-ROK trilateral summit meeting will be held in Seoul on Sunday and Monday. Woo Su-keun (Woo), head of the Institute of East Asian Studies of Korea and president of the Korea-China Global Association, stated that China is South Korea's closest neighbor with the world's largest market. Therefore, the importance of South Korea's friendly relations with China for its survival and prosperity cannot be overstated. In an interview with Global Times (GT), he said that the problem lies in the fact that South Korea's ruling bloc has not yet moved away from outdated cold war thinking. Joining any form of anti-China confrontation is detrimental to South Korea's national security and economy.

GT: Since 2019, the China-Japan-South Korea trilateral summit meeting has been suspended. How do you think the resumption of the trilateral meetings will affect East Asia and how important is this resumption?

Needless to say, depending on the relationship between the three countries, the East Asian region will inevitably be affected. Considering this, the importance of close dialogue and cooperation among the three countries, especially at the most important summit, cannot be overemphasized. 

Nonetheless, the China-Japan-South Korea trilateral summit meeting remained suspended for several years. As a result, the current situation in Northeast Asia has been negatively affected and remains rigid and tense. With the upcoming trilateral summit between South Korea, China and Japan, smooth hosting will bring a small ray of light to the East Asian situation, which was gripped by darkness. As the three countries are currently in different situations, it will not be easy to achieve much through this summit. However, if dialogue and exchange are resumed and continued well, the rigid atmosphere in East Asia is expected to become smoother and softer.

GT: Recently, South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul visited China and confirmed that he mentioned the word "cooperation" seven times in his speech. However, since President Yoon Suk-yeol took office, efforts have been made to further strengthen relations with the US and the prospects for relations with China are not optimistic. With Foreign Minister Cho's visit to China, how much room do you think South Korea has to adjust its policy toward China?

No one can deny that South Korean diplomacy has become excessively pro-US and anti-China since President Yoon took office. Relations with China have deteriorated to the point that they are evaluated as the worst ever. 

More and more Koreans have come to perceive the deterioration of Korea-China relations as one of the biggest causes of the deterioration of the Korean economy, raising antipathy against the Yoon regime. The ruling party suffered a crushing defeat in the general election in April, and the embattled Yoon administration was forced to drastically revise its existing policy. Public sentiment in Korea has increasingly put pressure on the president, saying that improving ties between South Korea and China is very important, especially with regard to economic recovery. As a result, President Yoon was forced to consider a "partial revision" of the South Korea-China relationship. 

As a result, for this meeting, the South Korean foreign minister came to China. However, President Yoon's pro-US diplomatic line will not change much yet. Unless his deep-rooted pro-liberal democracy and anti-communism ideas change, or the core forces of the diplomatic and security line, which tempt the president to propose and maintain pro-US-centered foreign policy, are replaced, the "total improvement" of Korea-China relations will not be easy.

GT: Some believe that the active promotion of the China-Japan-South Korea trilateral summit meeting is part of the South Korean government's efforts to adjust its foreign policy and "find a balance." Recently, senior US officials have also visited China frequently. Do you think the South Korean government truly recognizes the importance of relations with China or is it following the example of the US?

The president's diplomatic aides still remain mired in a pro-US or pro-China mind-set. But the more they stick to this diplomatic line, the more ordinary Koreans become resentful of it and demand that "Korea-US relations are good, but Seoul-Beijing ties should also improve!" The Korean opposition party also won a landslide election in April, increasing pressure on the president. This has led the Yoon administration to appear to respond to these demands, if only to some extent. So far, the calls for a South Korea-China-Japan summit or a South Korea-Chin summit are passive and partial, not active and sweeping. They have maintained a US-centered policy on politics and security while approaching China to improve their economic needs. 

GT: How do you think South Korea should develop its relationship with China in a way that is in South Korea's interests? How important is it for South Korea to maintain good diplomatic relations with China? 

It is common knowledge, even for children, that in the present bitter confrontation between the G1 and the G2, it is never desirable for a country to approach either side too much for its national security or the promotion of comprehensive national interests. The problem is that South Korea's ruling bloc is still engaged in such diplomatic activities. 

China is the closest neighbor to South Korea. Its neighbor is not just a neighbor but a G2 and is one of the strongest countries in the world with the world's largest market. Considering this, South Korea's friendly relations with China in terms of survival and prosperity cannot be overemphasized. Nevertheless, the South Korean president and his diplomatic team do not seem to realize this. However, the government never beats the people. The more the Yoon administration persists in conducting something that goes against common sense, the closer and closer the South Korean people get to losing their patience.

GT: What are your expectations for trilateral cooperation between China, South Korea and Japan? How important is this mechanism of cooperation for the three countries?

Friendly and cooperative relations between South Korea, China and Japan are essential for peace and co-prosperity in the East Asian region. Considering this, it is very important for the three countries to actively operate various dialogue, exchange and cooperation mechanisms. In this respect, the importance of the summit, especially the trilateral summit, which is at the peak of foreign exchanges, cannot be overemphasized.

GT: There have been reports and speculations about whether South Korea, along with the US, the UK and Australia, will join the AUKUS security partnership. What is your view on this? How do you think South Korea's accession to AUKUS will affect the situation in East Asia?

The global world in which we currently live is no longer an era of division and confrontation in which enemies and allies are clearly distinguished. It is a common destiny where all countries cooperate together and compete together. Under these circumstances, a structure like AUKUS that seeks to divide and confront sides based on old ideologies that have already disappeared into history is a very unfortunate and dangerous idea that runs counter to the trend of the times. Regardless of what anyone does, AUKUS is undeniably part of an anti-China checkpoint.

However, the Yoon administration is considering joining the anti-China confrontation front. This move would be undesirable for South Korea's national security and its economy. Less than half of his term has passed, and the Yoon administration is losing power to the extent that it is considered to have already fallen into a lame-duck state. The crisis of impeachment is also getting bigger. Under these circumstances, active participation in strengthening anti-China fronts such as AUKUS will result in strong opposition from the opposition parties and public sentiment in South Korea. In this regard, the Yoon administration could have joined AUKUS in the early days. However, they are already so weak that they do not even have the strength to do so. 

GT: What do you think is the root cause of the uncertainty in the current regional situation? What role do you think the trilateral summit meeting will play in maintaining regional stability? 

The current regional situation surrounding the three countries is diverse, including historical and ideological conflicts. However, these cannot be easily resolved at once. Therefore, the three countries should meet, exchange and cooperate more frequently at various levels while reducing their negative effects by promoting friendship and cooperation. Considering this, frequent hosting of the three-way summits as well as the promotion of open dialogue and cooperation are very important premises. 

As a South Korean proverb goes, "You can't be full with your first drink," which means it is not possible to achieve results overnight. Likewise, it will not be easy to expect much of an outcome this time, as it is the first trilateral summit in a long time. However, just as the three leaders meet this time to establish various channels of dialogue and exchange, the results of the trilateral summit will not be small.