Trust is the key word in BeijingThe South Korea-China relationship has always been packaged newly. Whenever a new leader emerged, the adjective defining the relationship changed. After the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1992, the bilateral tie was labeled as a “cooperative friendship.”
The adjective is upgraded whenever a new Korean president visits China. When President Kim Dae-jung made a visit in 1998, the two countries’ relationship was elevated to a “cooperative partnership.” When President Roh Moo-hyun visited China five years later, the relationship was again upgraded to a “comprehensive cooperative partnership.” During President Lee Myung-bak’s visit in 2008, it because a “strategic cooperative partnership.” At the time, there was a joke that there won’t be any more words to add from then on.
But the reality was different. Throughout Lee’s presidency, the two countries had an uncomfortable relationship. After the North’s sinking of the Cheonan warship and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, diplomats of the two countries even exchanged some cruel words and many lamented if it were truly a strategic cooperative partnership
At the end of this month, President Park Geun-hye visits China and many wondered how the two countries will upgrade the relationship’s label. Some said there would be no need to do so, saying it will be enough to add substance to the existing strategic cooperative partnership.
Then what should be the keyword to define the relationship between President Park and Chinese President Xi Jinping for the next five years? “Trust” seemed to be an appropriate word, and the bilateral tie can be defined as a “partnership of trust.”
Trust is the keyword for the Park administration’s state affairs. Park stressed the importance of trust between the people and the government, assuring that she will keep all promises made to the public. In inter-Korean relations, Park also talks about trust, and that is her Korean Peninsula trust process. She wants to build up trust with the North starting from small things to build the foundation for unification.
In foreign affairs, Park also stresses the importance of trust. When Chen Zhili, Vice Chair of Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, paid a visit to her in September last year, President Park quoted, “If the people have no faith in their rulers, there is no standing for the state,” from the Analects of Confucius, adding that “any difficulties between the two countries can be resolved if they trust each other deeply.”
There is a saying in China that “You will never do business if you are not friends first.” It means you can pursue common interests only after you become trustworthy friends. That’s a lesson from the people who did business for a long time in China.
During her upcoming trip, how can Park build trust with China? She already has built a friendship with Xi. At the upcoming summit, she should have candid talks to add a depth of trust particularly by building up trust with the ordinary Chinese.
Giving a speech in Chinese to show her respect to the country can be a way. In addition, she should have an opportunity to exchange with the “lao baixing,” or ordinary folks. Until now, no Korean president has made such an exchange during their visits to China.
During his visits to Korea in 2007 and 2010, former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was engaged in active public diplomacy. He went jogging along the Han River with ordinary Koreans in the morning and played badminton with them.
Park can also visit the old house in Beijing of Chinese philosopher Feng Youlan, who was a great inspiration to her during her hardship in the past, and make an exchange with the Chinese people as a reader of books. Feng spent his last years at the Yannan Yuan on the campus of Peking University to write the new version of the History of Chinese Philosophy, and it is a place frequented by many other great Chinese scholars, including Ma Yinchu.
She can also visit an ordinary noodle restaurant in Beijing and discuss with the diners about the taste of noodles in Seoul and Beijing. In 2011, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden visited a small restaurant in Beijing and impressed the Chinese public, but at least, Park will have more to say about noodles.
To build trust, you need two things. In China, there is a saying “Hear what he says and observe what he does.” Words and actions must agree. And the trust must be proven repeatedly, not just for once, which takes time.
Once built, trust won’t fall easily. It will be a strong foundation for the new Korea-China relationship for the next 20 years. To define the next five years of the two countries’ relationship under Park and Xi, the keyword must be trust.
*The author is a JoongAng Ilbo specialist on China.
By You Sang-chul