What links Korea and China?

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What links Korea and China?

Three major rivers provide water to China. Huang He, the Yellow River, flows across the northern highlands and the Yangtze River traverses the wide plains of the middle part of China. The Pearl River, or Zhu Jiang, is the river system in southern China. Zhuhai, the symbol of China’s reform and opening, is located at the Pearl River’s mouth. It is one of the four special economic zones set up in the late 1970s as China raised the bamboo curtain.

Less than a month after Xi Jinping was elected general secretary of the Communist Party of China in 2012, he visited Shenzhen and Zhuhai in Guangdong Province. In Shenzhen, Xi dedicated flowers at a statue of Deng Xiaoping and moved on to Zhuhai to listen to the Hengqin Free Trade Zone plan. He openly proclaimed his intent to continue Deng’s opening and reforms.

The core of Deng’s reform and opening was his “bold attempts.” After the Jiang Zemin regime moved leftward after the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4th, 1989, Deng, at 88, went on a month-long tour of Zhuhai and other cities in January 1992 to reignite the reform and opening drive. Deng gave speeches during that tour to say there was no need to choose between socialism and capitalism and that leaders needed to consider only three things: what was good for increasing production, for increasing national strength and for improving people’s lives. If growth is to come, authorities need to try boldly.

Half a year after Deng’s tour of the South, China and Korea established diplomatic ties.

As a city with such a tradition of reform, Zhuhai began on July 7 another experiment to develop Korea-China relations. For the first time since the two countries established diplomatic ties, a “1.5-track” dialogue of Korean and Chinese government and civilian representatives was held. The impetus was a July 2014 meeting when Xi came to Korea and agreed with President Park to refresh their nations’ relations.

The purpose of the 1.5-track dialogue was to gather ideas from both officials and private citizens. It added private-sector flexibility to government initiatives. In order to respond to the new challenges Korea and China face, we cannot rely on the capacity of a handful of policy makers as we did in the past. Former Korean Ambassador to China Lee Kyu-hyung said that innovative ideas from civilian experts are much needed.

The 1.5-track dialogue teams were headed by respective assistant foreign ministers, Kim Hong-kyun of Korea and Liu Jianchao of China and include 10 civilian members, former officials and experts in foreign policy, security, economy, the media, culture and academia. The meeting focused on breaking the conventional wisdom. A former vice foreign minister of China, Wang Yingfan, was the first to speak. Chinese generally begin speeches with conventional greetings, but Wang intentionally ignored the custom and went straight to the point.

A Chinese history commentator, Yi Zhongtian, tossed away the script he had prepared. He said that he hoped Korea-China relations would never get cold and instead stay sizzling like his favorite Korean dishes, ginseng chicken soup and hot stone rice. The Chinese writer Liu Zhenyun said that when he visited Seoul, he always took a cab to a porridge restaurant half a mile from the Hankuk University of Foreign studies, claiming that this represented the power of the culture connecting the two countries.

After initial fears, it was unnecessary to worry about whether the Chinese civilian experts could speak freely alongside the officials.

The China Central Television news anchor Bai Yansong said, “Korea is valued by China as Chinese media reports five to six stories about Korea every day.”

He pressed the foreign ministry’s Asian section to handle relations with this important neighbor properly, because 1.3 billion Chinese are closely watching.

In addition to having mutual interests in politics and the economy, the sharing of East Asian civilization was highlighted the most. Ewha Womans University professor Choi Joon-sik said that only shoe-sized land is needed to stand, which is politics and economics, but that is not enough to walk. She was emphasizing the need for the power of culture that deepens two countries’ friendship. Sogang University Professor Choi Jin-seok urged Korea and China to set out on a grand journey together to deviate from learning from the West, overcome Western influences and establish an Asian world view.

What keeps Korea and China close? Xing Haiming, deputy director general of the foreign ministry’s Department of Asian Affairs, said that the troika of Korea-China relations are political trust, economic cooperation and cultural exchange. Sungkyunkwan University professor Lee Hee-ok was praised for his argument that “Korea and China can go farther when we go together, and in order to go farther, we must go together.”

China’s President Xi Jinping said, “You can choose a neighbor, but you cannot choose a neighboring country.”

So Korea and China have only one option: friendship. The Korea-China 1.5-track dialogue took a small, yet meaningful step when the first-ever government-civilian talks expanded the scope of friendship between the two countries.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 15, Page 32

*The author is a JoongAng Ilbo specialist on China.

by You Sang-chul

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