[VIEWPOINT]Roh visit will develop China tiesPresident Roh Moo-hyun will visit China for four days beginning July 7. This is his third visit to a foreign country and his second as a state guest. Mr. Roh’s visit to Beijing comes five years after former President Kim Dae-jung’s trip to China in 1998.
During those five years, China and Korea celebrated the 10th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations, and this year is the 50th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War, so this visit has much more significant meaning.
After the 1992 normalization, it seems to have become a practice that the Korean president visits China within a year of his inauguration, but this visit draws special interest because there is some important background.
First, at the end of last year, the leadership of both South Korea and China changed, to President Roh and President Hu Jintao. Because China puts great stock in “summit diplomacy” that aims to establish a close relationship among leaders, this first meeting between the two men is very significant.
Because the international situation around the Korean Peninsula is subject to abrupt change, we can hope that this visit will establish the kind of relationship that will allow the two men to do serious business even over the phone in the future.
Second, building mutual understanding and establishing close relations between key diplomatic policymakers is as important as the meeting of the leaders. South Korea in particular has changed a lot of its diplomatic team, so it needs to make some strong efforts to build bridges.
Third, during past visits of Korean presidents to China, they have always asked that China use “appropriate” influence on North Korea. That will be the case this time as well, but it is important that we should be careful not to leak the details of our requests to China. Furthermore, our diplomats need good diplomatic skills to judge whether China is changing the substance of its position on North Korea.
Fourth, in the current situation, the negotiations on North Korea will surely dominate the discussions. But it is obvious that multi-dimensional relations between South Korea and China, which matured through 24 years of informal relations and 11 years of official ties since 1992, should be heeded. The reason China decided to improve and normalize relations with South Korea, despite the blow to its relations with North Korea, was the immense advantage it gained through commerce and economic cooperation with South Korea. From this perspective, it is imperative that, through this visit, the substantial economic links between the two countries be improved, especially in information-communications technology, energy development and finance.
Fifth, relations between South Korea and China already have expanded to include active social exchanges beyond the official dialogue between the governments. Personal exchanges between South Korea and China are already greater than those between South Korea and the United States, and that implies much for future relations between the two countries. But the structural problems that slow this trend should also be solved.
I recommend that the bilateral investment treaty negotiated in 1992 should be revised and that a bilateral judicial cooperation treaty and a consular agreement should be discussed and negotiations begun, if possible.
Lastly, the international audience for this visit should be considered. It is true that until now South Korea has given weight only to bilateral interests in its diplomacy, and because it is accustomed to that practice, it did not pay much attention to hidden interests of third countries in its bilateral relations.
The dramatic progress in relations between South and China should be continued. Such rapid progress is beneficial, but we should pay attention to its strategic meaning on the Korean Peninsula. Expecta-tions are high for this summit, and because of the partnership that the two countries forged in 2000, we can look forward to having this visit lay the cornerstone for a substantive and reciprocal partnership in many sectors.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University and CNAPS Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
by Chung Jae-ho