A new start with China

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A new start with China

President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a new beginning in bilateral ties. After their first summit in Beijing, the two leaders announced a joint statement on a future vision for Seoul-Beijing ties pledging to expand partnerships in a multitude of areas including politics, security, economics, trade, human and cultural exchanges, and international cooperation. Details of an action plan were included in the text of the communique and annex to turn a new page in a 21-year diplomatic relationship.

South Korea and China forged ties in 1992 based on “friendly cooperation” and later elevated them to a strategic partnership. But the relationship was chained to ideological roots and commitments to traditional allies - in South Korea’s case to the United States and in China’s case to North Korea. Despite a deepening economic and trade relationship, Seoul and Beijing drew apart on the diplomatic front during the last conservative government, with its rigid stance on the North and over-reliance on the U.S.

President Park envisions a more balanced and strategically meaningful relationship with China through strengthened cooperation in the political and security fields. The two leaders agreed on a more frequent dialogue.

On the nuclear issue, the two presidents were of one voice in opposing the North’s nuclear armaments. In a joint press conference, Park said, “We agreed that a nuclear-armed North Korea will never be tolerated under any circumstances.” Seoul and Beijing reaffirmed that North Korea’s denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula serve the common interests of the two countries. But the statement only reiterated joint efforts on denuclearization. During talks with his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama, Xi articulated an intolerance of North Korean nuclear weapons. Beijing may have wished to avoid directly addressing and provoking Pyongyang during the closely-watched summit with Seoul. In any way, however, leaders of Seoul, Beijing and Washington established a common framework and stance on denuclearization of North Korea.

Xi expressed support for the South Korean president’s trust-building process with North Korea and urged diplomatic efforts to improve ties with the North. Pyongyang has turned more conciliatory to talks, but Seoul and Washington remain doubtful of its sincerity. It’s still up to Beijing to persuade Pyongyang to act sincerely.

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