[Viewpoint]Coming at China

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[Viewpoint]Coming at China

President Lee Myung-bak’s state visit to China will take place from May 27 to 30. The trip is a part of Lee’s diplomatic outreach to the world’s superpowers, following visits to the United States and Japan, but it carries several points of significance in relation to recent changes in regional affairs.

First, the trip is taking place amidst Chinese concerns that the Lee administration is putting a priority on U.S.-South Korea relations and that China-South Korea relations will weaken relatively. Seoul needs to calm Beijing’s concerns, while at the same time explaining South Korea’s position to the Chinese leadership.

Second, the Lee administration must be convincing about its North Korea policy, which is clearly different from those of the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations. The Lee administration’s policy is designed to provide support in increasing the North’s national per capita income to $3,000 a year, in return for the denuclearization and opening of the reclusive country. For this policy to actually work, the help of China, the North’s largest patron, is vital.

It is also necessary to resolve Beijing’s concerns that its influence over the Korean Peninsula is dwindling. U.S.-North Korea dialogue is moving forward after the Feb. 13 nuclear agreement and it is speculated that the host country for the six-party talks will change. But in order to resolve numerous obstacles to ending the nuclear crisis on the peninsula, China’s role is still critical.

The Lee administration pursues creative and pragmatic diplomacy and it is important to apply these principles to China. The initiative to upgrade the current comprehensive cooperative partnership to a strategic one can be seen as an attempt to face the changes in the regional landscape.

Since South Korea and China tied the diplomatic knot in 1992, the two countries have maintained a stable relationship that some would call a honeymoon. Bilateral trade volume amounts to more than $150 billion and 5 million people travel between the two nations every year. South Korea has invested $40 billion in China, and the number of Koreans residing in China will soon be 1 million.

The two countries’ cultural exchanges have reached a new peak. And these are only some of the examples of how the relationship between the two countries has developed.

There are many factors that allow an optimistic forecast for the future of the relationship, such as mutual importance as economic partners and the need to cooperate to peacefully end the North Korean nuclear crisis.

In order to push bilateral ties to the next level, there are many things that the two countries can do, such as maintain active shuttle diplomacy between state leaders and establish a strategic cooperative relationship.

And yet, the relationship between South Korea and China over the past 16 years has provided new questions as to what substantial development truly is. Because the scope and content of the exchanges will widen in the future, there is a high possibility that new reasons for conflict will be found.

While the economic exchanges between South Korea and China can be handled under the mechanism of the market economy, the international relationship is more than a bilateral affair.

Because they are sensitive subjects, the two nations have concealed delicate problems or mended them hastily, but such practices will not work for some fields. In other words, there are more decisive obstacles that will hinder the development of the relationship.

After the launch of diplomatic relations, leaders of the two countries have visited each other and made a range of symbolic gestures and cooperative agreements. However, such agreements and discussions were lacking reality-based specifics. In fact, Seoul and Beijing have not even begun to implement of some of the agreements.

Now the two countries need a new approach to make their relationship more mature and future-oriented. While the economy should be left to market principles, the nations need to discuss realistic trust-building measures, rather than just talking big with little action.

They should begin a serious discussion on issues that easily provoke the citizens of the two nations, such as nationalism, repatriation of North Korean defectors and different views on history.

Many Korean workers dispatched to serve their firms’ branches in Qingdao, which Lee will visit during his trip, send their children back to Korea to go to school. It is possible that Lee will discuss the establishment of joint South Korea-China middle and high schools and a university ? realistic and tangible projects.

The upcoming summit between South Korea and China should be an opportunity for the two nations to look back on what they have missed in the past because they were after rapid expansion in the magnitude of their exchanges. It should serve as an opportunity to build trust in order to understand each other. It is also highly anticipated that this summit will become the starting point to build communication mechanisms that will guarantee the continuous development of the two nations’ relationship.

*The writer is a director of the Institute of Chinese Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kang Jun-young
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