Balancing China and the U.S.Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Seoul accompanied by an entourage with many top corporate executives for a milestone-setting two-day state visit to South Korea. Never has a Chinese leader taken a trip to Seoul before he paid respects in Pyongyang, its traditional ally since the 1950-53 Korean War, in the entire time since the capitalist South forged diplomatic ties with China in 1992. The Seoul summit - the fifth meeting between Xi and President Park Geun-hye since the two leaders took office early last year - is expected to lead to an elevated level of bilateral ties. While Chinese officials tried to tone down the significance of Xi visiting Seoul before Pyongyang, it had great meaning at a time when geopolitical tensions and conflicts of interests have never been so high among the two Koreas, China, the United States and Japan.
The two leaders deepened their rapport by discussing various topics. In the joint statement following the summit, they announced they will deepen their partnership and wrap up free trade negotiations by the end of the year. In another major step, the two countries signed a currency agreement that would allow the Korean won to become directly exchangeable with the yuan in China’s tightly controlled market to boost bilateral trade that already exceeds Korea’s combined trade with the United States and Japan. The two countries hope to increase bilateral trade to more than $300 billion from last year’s $229 billion.
The two sides also agreed to initiate talks on maritime border lines, reached agreement on cooperation in consular affairs and vowed to combat fine-particle air pollution from China.
On the most-watched issue - North Korea’s nuclear weapons - the two presidents reaffirmed “firm opposition” to nuclear weapons development on the Korean Peninsula. They also agreed to explore ways to restart the six-party talks.
“Both Korea and China have supported the idea of making efforts to achieve visible progress in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through meaningful conversations among chief negotiators to the six-party talks,” said Park in a press conference.
To coincide with Xi’s visit to Seoul, North Korea has fired missiles and Japan announced an easing of sanctions against Pyongyang. Washington also watched Xi’s visit carefully. Korea’s alliance with the United States is based on democratic values, while its partnership with China is more business-like. Seoul must tread carefully lest its newfound love affair with Beijing estranges Washington, its ally for decades.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 4, Page 30