Think China’s on our side? Think again

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Think China’s on our side? Think again

China, South Korea and North Korea have long had close connections due to their geographical proximity. For South and North Korea, China was an object of both envy and fear. Koreans envied China’s advanced civilization, but feared its southward advance. After the division of the peninsula in 1945, China has come to have different meanings in the South and North. North Korea and China became closer politically, while South Korea built a solid economic relationship with Beijing.

While China and North Korea began as blood brothers, that relationship is gradually fading. North Korea didn’t trust China as it established diplomatic relations with the United States in 1979 and with Korea in 1992. As a result, North Korea is envious of the South. When I visited Pyongyang 10 years ago, a North Korean guide said, “We envy South Korea for having the strong backing of the United States. We don’t get that kind of protection.” He couldn’t openly blame China and remained reserved. “It is mistaken for South Korea to think North Korea wants nuclear weapons just as a means to respond to America’s threat. In fact, North Korea is more afraid of China.”

South Korea-China relations have made significant progress economically. Trade volume was $270 billion in 2013. Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping broke with tradition and visited Seoul before Pyongyang.

Politically, the friendly good-neighbor partnership of 1992 has been elevated to one of strategic cooperation.

The Pyongyang-Beijing relationship cooled under Xi, but has been heating up since the end of last year. Liu Yunshan, No. 5 in the Chinese Communist Party and a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, visited the North Korean Embassy in Beijing to mark the third anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s death last year, and said the Chinese leadership values North Korea-China relations. Also, Beijing sent its first congratulatory message for Kim Jong-un’s birthday on Jan. 8 and pledged to further develop the traditionally friendly cooperation between the two countries. The moves are interpreted as China’s way of expressing discontent with the deployment of the Thaad (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense) system in South Korea and Seoul’s reluctance to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

As the environment changes, countries move according to their interests. South and North Korea’s relationships with China also change. It is a mistake to think China is on our side. China just moves according to its national interests. As an exporter of smartphones, Korea should become smarter.

The author is a researcher at the Unification Research Institute, JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb.2, Page 30


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