We need better Sino relationsChina has dominated South Korea’s foreign relations in the 21st century. Redefining the nation’s relationship with China, which is growing in power and its assertiveness in relation to its economic might, poses as the biggest conundrum for government officials on the diplomatic scene. South Korea relies heavily on the Chinese market to run its economy. It also cannot move forward on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and realizing unification without China’s support and cooperation.
China will inevitably play a critical role in a post-unification Korea. South Korea’s alliance with the United States is its strongest asset but a handicap in dealing with China. If Sino-U.S. relations worsen, South Korea may find itself in a sticky position to choose between the two.
And worrying won’t solve anything. We must concoct a long-term approach on China. To make headway, the government set up a China Research Center under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. The think tank has a special mission on gathering information and amassing knowledge on China. It should supplement its role by connecting with local and overseas groups specializing on Chinese affairs. It also should establish a long-term strategy unaffected by who is in power and be actively involved in policy making.
At the same time, the government should endeavor to strengthen public diplomacy, creating international opinion favorable to South Korea. China, despite its censorship, cannot ignore international opinion. The country’s Internet users have reached 400 million, enjoying free access and speech on the Web. Their voices and connection could become influential no matter how much Beijing wants to brush them aside. Targeted public diplomacy, in an effort to move public opinion, is the new trend in the 21st century diplomatic world.
Connecting with the civilian sector was a key theme in the U.S. State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. “In the 21st century, a diplomat is as likely to meet with a tribal elder in a rural village as a counterpart in a foreign ministry, and as likely to wear cargo pants as a pin-striped suit,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in the report.
The Chinese bear negative feelings toward South Koreans. The government, as well as the civilian sector, must join hands to get them on our side. A first step would be to ensure that the country’s diplomats display the highest standard of professionalism and decency.