|Chinese Ambassador to Korea Xing Haiming, left, gestures during his meeting with main opposition Democratic Party of Korea Chairman Lee Jae-myung at the former's residence in Seongbuk District, Seoul, Thursday. Joint Press Corps|
Gov't summons Chinese envoy over inflammatory remarks
By Nam Hyun-woo
China is advancing its diplomatic outreach to Korea's National Assembly, particularly opposition party members, seeking to gain leverage in Korean politics against the Yoon Suk Yeol administration's U.S.-leaning foreign policy.
In response, Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Xing Haiming, the Chinese ambassador to Korea, on Friday, over remarks he made during a meeting with main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) Chairman, Lee Jae-myung, on Thursday, which the ministry described as "irrational and provocative."
A day earlier, Xing had a dinner meeting with the main opposition leader at the ambassador's residence in Seoul.
During the meeting, Xing said, "The current China-Korea relations are facing a slew of difficulties, and honestly, the responsibility for these problems does not lie with China."
He continued, "The Taiwan issue is a core part of China's key interests and is closely related to the fundamental of China-Korea relations. We hope that the Korean side will honor its commitments and respect China's core concerns regarding the Taiwan issue … With the U.S. exercising full-fledged pressure on China, some people are placing their bet that the U.S. will prevail and China will defeat. This is a wrong bet … They will regret their decision in the future."
Xing also noted that he is paying attention to Seoul's recent increases in trade deficits with China, attributing the deficits to "attempts to decouple from China."
The ambassador's comments referred to the Korean president's policy of strengthening Seoul's relations with Washington to their highest level, while building a framework for closer cooperation between Korea, Japan and the U.S.
In doing so, Yoon has echoed U.S. views on issues that China finds sensitive, namely the contentious geopolitical issue of Taiwan. Yoon has said that he is against any "attempt to change the status quo by force" referring to Beijing's stance on the self-governing island state.
"Beijing had been thinking that Korea was a weak link of U.S. strategy to encircle China, and it now sees the necessity to slow down Seoul's prompt leaning toward Washington," said Lee Dong-gyu, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
"Ambassador Xing's comments during his meeting with the opposition party leader were seen as a subtle warning, and it seems that Beijing is seeking to use Korea's domestic politics to build up opinions desirable for China."
In response, Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a release that it summoned Xing on Friday, and First Vice Minister Chang Ho-jin warned the envoy that his "criticism against the Korean government's policy with wrong facts and unacceptable rhetoric goes against the diplomatic custom, and constitutes an interference of domestic affairs."
Chang also noted that the remarks dashed the both governments' desire to improve the bilateral relations under the principle of mutual respect and irresponsibly inflicted misunderstanding between the two countries.
"Chang warned that Xing should not deviate from the duty of a diplomatic envoy, and that all results will be his responsibility," the release read.
In protest against Seoul's summoning of its envoy, China also called in Korean Ambassador to Beijing Chung Jae-ho, Saturday, to lodge a complaint, according to its foreign ministry, Sunday.
Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong met with Chung and expressed serious concerns and a complaint over what it called an unfair response that Korea showed about the Lee-Xing meeting.
The Chinese official also asked the Korean government to reflect on where the problem lies in relations between the two countries, respect the spirit of the joint statement adopted when the two countries established diplomatic relations, and work with China for a healthy and stable development of relations, according to the ministry.
The meeting with the DPK leader, which was requested by Xing, was seen as an indirect expression of China's complaints against the ruling bloc, because the ambassador had the dinner with the opposition party chairman before meeting the ruling party leader Kim Gi-hyeon.
According to the ruling People Power Party (PPP), the Chinese embassy in Seoul contacted the party on June 6 to request a meeting between Kim and Xing, far later than the meeting between Lee and Xing was arranged.
Kim told reporters on Thursday that "we (he and Xing) are friends so we can always meet," but showed an angry response on Friday, slamming Xing's comments during the dinner was "clearly an interference in internal affairs and a serious breach of diplomatic protocol."
Korea's Director of National Security Cho Tae-yong said in a forum on Friday that "we will build a healthy Korea-China relations that befits our enhanced national status, through confident diplomacy," adding that "mutual respect is the basis of country-to-country relations."
On the contrary, DPK Chairman Lee said on Friday that he had discussions with Xing in order to "explore ideas to revive the strained Seoul-Beijing economic cooperation and revitalize China-bound trade."
"With exports standing as the backbone of our economic growth, it is almost impossible to rebound from economic slowdown while excluding its largest trade partner," DPK's Lee said.
|Director of National Security Cho Tae-yong delivers a speech during a forum at the Four Seasons hotel in Jongno District, Seoul, Friday. Yonhap|
Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University, said Xing's recent moves can be interpreted as Beijing's strategy to build up positive political sentiment toward China in the Korean politics.
"Though the speaker was Ambassador Xing, it should be seen as Beijing's direct order," Park said.
"So far, Beijing has showed its complaints about Korea's strengthening relations with the U.S. and Japan by responding to Seoul's certain actions such as President Yoon's remarks (through indirect means), but now China is delivering its messages straight to Korean counterparts. From this point, Seoul should monitor whether Xing will make omnidirectional moves to secure China's political room in the domestic political scene."
Asan's Lee also said Xing's outreach to Korean politics is an attempt to find leverage that China can use for its interests.
"Beijing seeks to speak about economic issues with opposition politicians to highlight that Seoul is not gaining economic profits from China due to the Yoon administration," Lee said. "If the current situation of the opposition's controlling of National Assembly continues (in next year's general election) and public sentiment turns against the Yoon government, Seoul's foreign policy may also be changed, and China may seek opportunities in that."