Better communication needed

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Better communication needed

South Korea held the fourth strategic dialogue with China in Seoul yesterday. It was the first meeting between the two governments since the sudden death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, and the two sides discussed the current situation on the Korean Peninsula and other important issues. Though the meeting is part of an annual strategic dialogue between Seoul and Beijing, it carries great significance in the sense that high-level officials - vice foreign ministers from both sides - exchanged their views on the post-Kim Jong-il era at a sensitive moment - a day before Pyongyang holds a funeral for the North Korean leader.

In the meeting, both sides agreed that stabilization of the Korean Peninsula is the most important thing to maintain peace in the region, and they consented to strengthen strategic communication between Seoul and Beijing. The agreement is part of an effort to make another step toward a more mature relationship before the 20th anniversary in 2012 of their diplomatic relationship. South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that there was no disagreement on the need to increase communication with each other when necessary.

Immediately after the news about Kim Jong-il’s death, President Lee Myung-bak had telephone conversations with heads of the United States, Japan and Russia - three major powers surrounding the Korean Peninsula - but not with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, who is a pivotal player in the affairs of the peninsula.

The South Korean government’s decision to augment strategic communication with China looks like a reflection of a lot of public concern and criticism. The two countries’ bilateral relations were elevated to a “strategic cooperative partnership” in 2008, 16 years after the normalization of diplomatic ties. A controversy over the lack of effective communication channels between two heads of state, however, is clear evidence that both sides have a long way to go until they reach the strategic partnership level as proudly declared three years ago.

No one denies the significance of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, particularly in the post-Kim era. At the moment, it seems that China is helping spearhead the effort to stabilize the nascent Kim Jong-un regime with the rest of the major powers going along with it. But that should not only mean that China support North Korea blindly. More important is the country’s ability to lead its rouge client state into a better future. Communication between Seoul and Beijing should be concentrated on that idea.
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