China-South Korea relations: as Beijing opposes foreign interference in ties, Seoul rejects ‘zero-sum’ diplomacy

China-South Korea relations: as Beijing opposes foreign interference in ties, Seoul rejects ‘zero-sum’ diplomacy

Beijing and Seoul should aim for the stable development of bilateral ties amid “challenges and difficulties”, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his South Korean counterpart on Monday while pushing for external interference in the relationship to be cast off.

South Korea’s Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul arrived in Beijing early on Monday for a two-day visit as Seoul aims to navigate its increasingly strained relations with Beijing which have suffered because South Korea, under the administration of President Yoon Suk Yeol, has forged strong ties with the United States.

It was the first visit to China by a South Korean foreign minister in nearly two years and Monday’s bilateral talks were the first between the countries’ top diplomats since August 2022 when Wang and South Korea’s then foreign minister Park Jin met in the eastern Chinese port city of Qingdao.

During the talks, Cho said his country did not approach foreign relations as “zero-sum” relationships, indicating that strengthening ties with one nation did not necessarily mean drifting away from other relationships.

“South Korea is not in favour of a zero-sum game and hopes to develop relations with all countries in a balanced manner, and is willing to work with China to … avoid geopolitical constraints as much as possible to open up a new horizon of bilateral cooperation,” Cho was quoted as saying in a Chinese foreign ministry statement.



Beijing criticises South Korea for inviting Taiwan to democracy summit

Beijing criticises South Korea for inviting Taiwan to democracy summit

The comments appeared to be an attempt to ease Beijing’s concerns over closer Seoul-Washington ties.

Wang said recent difficulties and challenges had affected their countries’ bilateral ties, a situation that was not in line with mutual interests and not desired by China.

“We hoped that our countries could join forces to push for a stable and healthy development of the China-South Korea relationship … and mutually stick to the direction of mutual goodwill and uphold the goal of mutually beneficial cooperation while excluding interference,” Wang said, according to the Chinese statement.

According to a statement from the South Korean foreign ministry, Cho stressed that the two countries should build on their cooperative momentum while carefully managing challenges that might stand in the way.

The deterioration of bilateral ties and Beijing’s frustration over the alignment between Seoul and Washington were made visible last year when its ambassador to South Korea, Xing Haiming, openly warned that Seoul would “definitely regret” it if it “bets on China’s defeat” in its rivalry with the US.

Those remarks triggered strong reactions from Seoul, which later summoned Xing and said his statements could amount to an “intervention in internal affairs”.

Ties between Beijing and Seoul also simmered last year following remarks Yoon made about Taiwan.

In April 2023, he condemned any attempt to use force to change the status quo regarding the self-ruled island, and said the Taiwan issue was not “simply an issue between China and Taiwan” but one that involves the entire world, contradicting Beijing’s stance that it was an internal matter.

Taipei took part in a US-backed democracy summit in Seoul in March. At the time, Beijing accused Seoul of providing Taiwan independence forces with a platform to enhance their visibility.

“It is hoped that South Korea will abide by the one-China principle, properly and prudently handle Taiwan-related issues and consolidate the political foundation of bilateral relations,” Wang said during the talks on Monday.

Additionally, Wang cautioned against trade protectionism and said the two countries should oppose it. The ministers said bilateral economic connections had been a driving force in each other’s development and agreed to strengthen economic cooperation, such as the stable management of supply chains.



China agrees to a summit with South Korea and Japan after rare trilateral meeting

China agrees to a summit with South Korea and Japan after rare trilateral meeting

South Korea is actively working to diversify the supply chains for its semiconductor industry and other key sectors and aims to decrease its dependence on China for essential materials.

According to South Korea’s foreign ministry, Cho and Wang agreed to work together to ensure the success of the coming trilateral summit involving Yoon, Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

The leaders’ gathering, which will reportedly occur in Seoul on May 26-27, will be the first such meeting since leaders of the three neighbours last met in Chengdu, in southwestern China, in December 2019. The leaders’ summit was not mentioned in the Chinese statement.

Cho urged China, in its capacity as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, to constructively contribute to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

China is South Korea’s biggest trading partner and is seen as a key player in efforts to rein in nuclear-armed North Korea. Beijing has advocated a “dual-suspension” approach to denuclearisation, which entails North Korea halting its missile and nuclear programmes while South Korea and the US would have to suspend their joint military exercises.



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