Straight talk with China

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Straight talk with China

President Lee Myung-bak will pay a three-day, two-night state visit to China next Monday. Lee probably understands the significance of his visit this time - not merely a leisurely trip in the twilight of his presidency - because it is the first meeting between him and Chinese leader Hu Jintao since the death of Kim Jong-il. This also marks the 20th anniversary of the diplomatic relationship between the two countries. We hope the meeting will provide an opportunity for strategic communication.

Despite both countries’ remarks in support of the peace and stability of the peninsula after Kim’s death, either side can hardly deny that both sides have different views on the two Koreas: When Beijing mentions peace and stability on the peninsula, it likely refers to maintaining the status quo. But we must keep unification in mind. Though we do not want Pyongyang’s regime change to bring about unwanted outcomes at the moment, we do wish for eventual unification.

President Lee should clearly explain to the Chinese leader our vision, persuading him that it would not threaten China’s national or security interests. Lee must also navigate Beijing’s discontent over the way Korea walks a tightrope between Beijing and Washington, as demonstrated by Korea’s reliance on China in economic terms and on the United States in security terms.

Despite the different views about the peninsula, there is a practical need for us to persuade Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks soon and lead the recalcitrant regime to take a path toward reform. President Lee should also send a positive signal to Hu before beginning consultations for a free trade agreement between Seoul and Beijing and find fundamental solutions to conflicts over China’s illegal fishing in our exclusive economic zone in the Yellow Sea. In addition, Lee must persuade China to recognize the need for a different approach to the issue of North Korean defectors in China.

China has become our biggest trade partner, with total trade volume registering a 30-fold increase and exceeding our trade with the United States and Japan combined. Regardless of such positive signs in the economic arena, it is not the case in the political and diplomatic arenas.

Both countries will experience a change in power this year. This summit is a golden opportunity to solidify the grounds for strategic communication. We hope our president will clear the dark clouds over the two countries with open-minded talk.
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