[Viewpoint]Improved relationsKorea’s relationship with China is beginning a new chapter. Tang Jiaxuan, Chinese foreign minister and member of the State Council, came to Seoul as a special envoy to celebrate President Lee Myung-bak’s inauguration.
While here, he emphasized that Korea-China relations will be upgraded to a new level. In fact, Beijing has already worked to elevate the cooperative partnership between the two countries to a strategic partnership in time for the beginning of the Lee Myung-bak administration, which has stressed reinforcing Korea’s alliance with the United States and restoring relations with Japan.
China has classified its relations with other countries into the following categories: a blood-pledged alliance, a traditional alliance, a partnership, a good and friendly neighbor and a friendly neighbor. Aside from the alliances, where there is a historical connection, a partnership is China’s closest relationship. The partnership can be preceded by various modifiers, but the most important is the word “strategic.”
In Chinese diplomacy, setting a strategic partnership has a special meaning. Generally, the two countries in a strategic partnership might be pursuing different ultimate goals. However, the two countries can cooperate on issues that reinforce their mutual relations.
Especially to China, strategic relationships are the core of the multi-polar diplomacy which has kept the U.S.-led unipolar system in check since the collapse of the bipolar system, namely the United States and the Soviet Union. China has so far only made strategic partnerships with the United States, Russia and France.
Beijing is now talking about upgrading Korea’s relationship to that of a strategic partnership. That would have great significance both in international politics and diplomacy.
Most of all, it is important that Beijing is the one suggesting the upgrade. It means, of course, that Korea’s strategic value has been elevated in China’s eyes.
As we have all noticed, China has been deeply involved in issues involving the Korean Peninsula while Korea’s relationship with the United States had grown a bit distant. China has also been expanding its diplomacy in Northeast Asia.
Because the Lee administration is emphasizing relations with Japan and the United States, China is getting worried about possibly being alienated. In other words, Beijing is sending signals to Seoul to balance its relationship with China and its policies toward the United States and Japan.
Secondly, China’s perception of the circumstances in Northeast Asia, at least on the issues in the Korean Peninsula, is changing.
The six-party dialogue is all about the resolution of North Korea’s nuclear program, the biggest pending issue in the region. China’s role is very important in these talks. However, the dynamics among the participating nations, which have been fixed for several years, are also experiencing changes.
Above all, the United States is attempting a direct approach with North Korea. At the same time, the Korea-U.S. relationship is improving, as can be seen in the fact that the U.S. Congress passed a resolution congratulating Lee Myung-bak on his election to the presidency.
In the case of Japan, the emphasis by Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda on Asian diplomacy has altered the honeymoon between Tokyo and Washington, which had been pursued by Junichiro Koizumi.
China has established a “strategic friendly neighbor” relationship with Japan. China appropriately decided that the existing frame of Korea-China relations cannot respond to a fast-changing situation in Northeast Asia.
Beijing is paying attention to the fact that a strategic relationship with Korea will greatly reinforce strategic dialogue and cooperation through various channels.
To the Lee Myung-bak administration, China is the most important country to maintain during the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear programs. Considering international dynamics, China is likely to push harder to resolve nuclear tension as it refocuses its relationships with its neighbors. China will need the North Korean regime to be “manageable.”
As we all know, what China wants to emphasize is preserving the status quo. The current conditions are very desirable for China because they create an advantageous environment for economic development, play a core role in international issues such as nuclear tension and maintain a stable relationship with the United States.
While the Lee Myung-bak administration’s North Korean and foreign policies have not been completely revealed, China has conveyed its expectations and concerns to Seoul.
After all, the key to the pragmatic diplomacy the Lee government wants to pursue is the reinforcement of relations with the United States and Japan and establishment of an upgraded relationship with China.
*The writer is a professor at the Graduate School of International and Area Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kang Jun-young