In 1992, China and South Korea formally established diplomatic relations. At the time, this phenomenon was seen as part of a larger series of developments in a ‘post Cold War world’ where a US dominated geopolitical reality that then US President George H.W. Bush called a “new world order”, was taking shape. Under such a line of thinking, it no longer behoved a Chinese state in the midst of economic reform to form international partnerships based on Cold War blocs which were no longer of relevance to a world embracing the ‘American way’.
This explanation which was simplistic at the time, has in hindsight been exposed to be a woeful misinterpretation of the realities in Asia and beyond. Far from the end of the Cold War shattering alliances and making US friendly states more attractive partners than so-called ‘Cold War holdovers’, as the DPRK continues to be described, in reality, the end of the Cold War saw artificial rivalries throughout Asia give way to a more organic pan-Asian mentality. Pan-Asian thought argues for partnerships among all of the historic powers and emergent post-colonial powers of Asia, in spite of Cold War alignments. Since the 1990s, China has embraced this line of thinking with open vigour. This is best reflected in China’s attitude towards India. Chinese officials have consistently spoken of a desire to forge not only a detente but a productive win-win relationship with India that embraces post-colonial Asianism, while rejecting Cold War style alignments. It is much to China’s dismay that India has traded its Soviet partner during the Sino-Soviet Cold War dispute for the United States, a country seeking to re-draw lines of conflict in Asia based on the kind of manufactured rivalries which existed during the Cold War.
But when it comes to Korea, China found partners in Seoul who were all too willing to forgo the Cold War zero-sum mentality and instead embrace pragmatic win-win relations with a nearby Asian partner. Since 1992, Beijing-Seoul relations have grown exponentially. The basis of a Sino-South Korean free trade agreement originally proposed in 2007 continues to expand since its implementation in 2015. China is now South Korea’s number one trading partner and this something likely to only increase, seeing as how Donald Trump is constantly threatening to slap tariffs on South Korean imports into the United States.
Under President Moon Jae-in, Seoul has expressed sensitivity to China’s opposition to the presence of US made THAAD missiles on Korean soil. To this end, China and South Korea were said to have reached a secret agreement in the autumn of 2017 regarding Beijing’s opposition to THAAD’s presence in the region. Since then, President Moon has visited Beijing for high level talks with President Xi, all of which were described as productive by both countries.
Yesterday, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s special representative Yang Jiechi held high level discussions with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Blue House in Seoul. According to an official report from Xinhua,
“This year marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the China-South Korea strategic cooperative partnership, Yang said, adding that China is willing to work together with South Korea to bring forward a healthy and stable development of bilateral relations.
Yang expressed the hope for continued leading and guiding role of the summits of the heads of state of both countries, strengthened political communications, solidified mutual strategic trust, deepened mutually beneficial cooperation as well as accelerated cooperation and more alignment concerning the Belt and Road Initiative.
Yang informed Moon about the visit of the top leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Kim Jong Un to China, saying that China has long supported the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. He added that China supports maintaining peace on the peninsula and settling conflict through dialogue.
Stressing that the Korean Peninsula is at a critical point, Yang said tensions are easing and the overall situation could turn around for good. He urged all parties involved to promote smooth talks between the South Korean and DPRK leaders as well as the DPRK and U.S. leaders in order to reach a political settlement on the Peninsula.
China is willing to work with South Korea on achieving denuclearization, and maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, Yang said.
Moon asked Yang to convey his congratulations to Xi on his election as Chinese president.
He said the South Korea-China strategic cooperative partnership has maintained a good momentum, adding that he expects bilateral relations to advance this year.
South Korea speaks highly of China’s successful hosting of Kim, Moon said. He added that South Korea lauds China’s constructive role in resolving the Korean Peninsula issue, and appreciates the country’s contributions to de-escalating tensions on the peninsula in recent years.
The president said South Korea is willing to enhance coordination with China and together safeguard peace and stability on the Peninsula and that only dialogue can resolve any outstanding issues”.
This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that China is the magnet which will help the two Korean states to develop closer ties during the wider peace process which is already in full swing. This would have been impossible without South Korea and China rapidly engaging in positive relations beginning with the establishment of their official bilateral ties in 1992.
When a rapidly economic reforming and growing DPRK is thrown into the mix, one sees how the win-win mentality combined with a shared history in the wider Asian space can overcome any ideological barriers, as while the two Korean states and China each have distinctive guiding political ideologies, they are all on the verge of ever closer trilateral relations.