Scholars from Seoul, Beijing discuss relations

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Scholars from Seoul, Beijing discuss relations

BEIJING - Scholars and senior diplomats of South Korea and China voiced in unison that the two countries should pursue quality, rather than quantity, of growth in a meeting here that officially marked the 20-year anniversary of bilateral relations.

Behind the exchange of such friendly rhetoric, however, was a subtle difference in stances over how big a factor North Korea should have in Seoul-Beijing ties.

“In order to open a new 20-year-long chapter between South Korea and China, we need to get past the gudongjoni thinking that has dictated the bilateral relations over the past 20 years,” said Chung Chong-wook, a professor at Dong-A University, at the Seoul-Beijing Forum, held on Friday. Gudongjoni is a Chinese word meaning focusing on what is in common while ignoring what is not. Chung, who served as Seoul’s ambassador to China, said it is time to have a candid discussion over how the two countries differ on issues, why such differences exist and how to iron them out. In order to do that, the professor said the two countries need a “resolution to have diplomatic ties for a second time.”

Chung Jae-ho, a Seoul National University professor, termed new, desirable Seoul-Beijing relations as gudongchuki, meaning focusing on what is in common and reducing what is not.

“South Korea and China need to be friends who, based on bilateral trust, give necessary advice to each other,” he said.

Lee Hong-koo, former prime minister of South Korea, was more specific and urged China not to turn a blind eye to North Korea, saying the North is a big stumbling block for Seoul-Beijing relations. He said South Korea and China need to put their heads together to resolve North Korean issues.

Han Sung-joo, former foreign minister of Seoul, mentioned a long-range rocket launch plan by the North as one of the problems requiring close cooperation between South Korea and China. The launch, slated for mid-April, which the North says is for civilian purposes, is suspected as a cover for a long-range missile test.

Inaugurating Chinese ambassador to Seoul, Zhang Tingyan, disagreed. He said the two countries still need gudongjoni, adding focusing on a small difference could threaten achieving the bigger goal of developing the bilateral relations. He said that it will be difficult for China to stop the North’s plan.

Yu Shaohua, a senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, echoed his view. “Rather than being obsessed with a short-term conflict, the two countries will have to make efforts to pursue longer-term common interests,” Yu said.

Zhu Feng, professor at the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University, expressed concern that “China and South Korea may part ways over North Korean issues.”

In a bid to wrap up the discussion on a positive note, Li Zhaoxing, China’s former foreign minister, said a bright future awaits Seoul-Beijing relations despite the temporary difficulty.


By You Sang-chul, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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