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China courting Korea in competition with US

Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, left, bumps elbows with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, before their talk in Xiamen, China, April 3. Yonhap
Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, left, bumps elbows with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, before their talk in Xiamen, China, April 3. Yonhap

By Jung Da-min

China seems to be sending signals to Korea not to side with the U.S. in the intensifying rivalry between the two superpowers, ahead of President Moon Jae-in's participation in the G7 Summit, where participants are expected to discuss toughening the anti-China campaign.

Just a day before the G7 summit is slated to run, from Friday to Sunday in the U.K., Beijing has called on Seoul to stay firm in its strategic partnership with Beijing, while also calling the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific strategy, a "Cold War framework."

According to China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a phone conversation with Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong the previous night, telling Chung that Korea should not become trapped in a "biased" way of thinking, and that Seoul and Beijing needed to maintain a "political consensus."

"China strongly opposes the U.S. government's Indo-Pacific strategy, as it is full of Cold War thinking and incites a collective confrontation, while not helping to develop regional peace," Wang was quoted as saying by the Chinese foreign ministry. "China and South Korea are friendly neighbors and strategic partners. The two countries are urged to maintain the right position and keep a political consensus, while not falling into any biased rhythm."

In response, Chung expressed hope that relations between the U.S. and China will stabilize, adding that cooperation between the two powerful nations was needed to respond to global challenges such as climate change, according to Korea's foreign ministry.

The foreign ministry also said that the phone talks were not made specifically because of the G7 Summit. "The phone conversation was held as a follow-up talk after the foreign ministers' meeting, held on April 3," a ministry official said. "Both the U.S. and China are important diplomacy partners for Korea, and it is normal for the countries to hold regular talks and announce their results."

But also on Thursday, Chinese Ambassador to Korea, Xing Haiming, said during his appearance on a radio show on local broadcaster CBS, that the U.S.'s Indo-Pacific strategy was in fact aimed at countering or pressuring China, calling it a Cold War framework.

"In the relationship between China and Korea, we have to work well without being affected by it (a Cold War framework)," Xing said. The ambassador said that bilateral relations between China and Korea have developed significantly over the past three decades, and he believes that Korea should think more about China's stance on territorial issues related to the South China Sea and Taiwan, in order to help bilateral ties.

Diplomatic watchers said that Beijing was trying to court Korea ahead of the G7 Summit, as the participating countries are expected to discuss China's Belt and Road Initiative and how to deal with China's growing influence in the region, along with other agenda items, ranging from COVID-19 and the climate crisis, to security issues.

Shin Beom-chul, director of the Center of Diplomacy and National Security at the Research Institute for Economy and Society, said China is indirectly pressing Korea not to lean "too much" toward the U.S.'s Indo-Pacific strategy, just ahead of the G7 Summit, although this message is nothing new.

"But the Korean foreign ministry should clearly tell its Chinese counterparts that Korea will decide its own position, according to its own standards, and that China has no right to direct which direction Korea should go in," Shin said.


Jung Da-min damin.jung@koreatimes.co.kr


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