[VIEWPOINT]Time to develop ties with China

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[VIEWPOINT]Time to develop ties with China

It has been 10 years since Korea and China established diplomatic relations. The relations between the two countries have developed structurally as well as quantitatively, and are expected to arrive at a stage of "comprehensive cooperation" that goes beyond cooperative partnership. Bilateral exchanges are expanding into areas of politics and military security, and the unbalanced nature of relations in past years can now be reformed.

Compared to other countries, Korea and China have heaven's blessing for developing their relations. First, both countries are becoming more interdependent on the basis of shared strategic interests, and the potential for reciprocal cooperation is high. Korea's dependence on the Chinese market will continue to increase as China develops into an economic power that can sustain high growth rates. Therefore, we must make efforts to make this relationship a mature one and to cultivate agressively the two countries' complementary characteristics in their economies. We have to try to use China's development to continue Korea's development.

Looking back, Korea has taken a more passive position than China in the past 10 years, which most likely resulted from the Roh Tae-woo government's impetuous "northern policy" and worsened with the current government's sunshine policy. As seen in our strained relations with Korea's fourth largest trading partner, Taiwan, in the refusal to approve the Dalai Lama's visit to Seoul and in Beijing's position on North Korean defectors, this passivity has played a large part in restraining Korea's sphere of action in foreign policy.

Korea's passivity in its diplomacy toward China may have been the result of relying solely on the expectation that China would help solve inter-Korean problems, not on efforts to understand fundamentally China's stake in the Korean Peninsula. China's endorsement of the peaceful coexistence of the Koreas or the sunshine policy can be seen as its decision to pursue its own interests on the Korean Peninsula rather than as the result of our diplomatic effort to get Chinese support on our policy. We need to shed this passivity and solidify our diplomatic position by thoroughly analyzing China's interests on the peninsula.

There has been a lot of conflict and friction recently between China and Korea in the matters of trade, North Korean defectors and ethnic Koreans in China. This is an inevitable result of the increase in exchanges and the progress in the bilateral relationship, but the problem is that such small and limited conflicts have flamed into diplomatic aggression too often and too easily. Both countries must establish a system within the larger framework of cooperation in order to resolve and regulate conflicts and frictions. They must devise a mechanism for effective engagement to resolve pending problems like North Korean defectors, and there must be no limits on the agenda items in such discussions. In order for the two countries to develop their relationship into a more mature one, the two countries should do away with the existing approaches, such as seeing Korea's relations with Taiwan as provocative to its relations with China.

China can now expand its role in the issues on the Korean Peninsula because it has established various channels of cooperation with both Koreas, and this will make our expectations of China's role higher. But this can also lead to mutual mistrust or misunderstandings between the United States and Korea if China's role on the Korean Peninsula is expanded and diplomatic relations between Beijing and Seoul deepen.

We must give assurances to the United States that U.S.-Korean ties will not be affected by our relations with Beijing: an alliance with the United States and companionship with China. To reiterate, a rational and functional mechanism for Korea-China cooperation must be found so the United States and Korea can adapt to the post-Cold War situation, and a stage for Korea and China to cooperate more actively must be established.


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The writer is a professor of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.

by Park Doo-bok

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