Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai is a prominent diplomat known for his eloquence. In 2010, when the Chinese foreign ministry white paper stated that it would enhance influence, friendliness and appeal, Cui was made the vice minister. On March 26 of the same year, the sinking of Korean naval vessel Cheonan resulted in the deaths of 46 Korean soldiers. To get cooperation of China in the aftermath, a Korean foreign ministry official visited Beijing, and Cui gave him a present. It was a framed calligraphy that he had written. It read, “A brave person of great courage would not be nervous when bad things suddenly happen. He would not be angry when someone accuses him with no reason.” It was from great Chinese poet Su Shi’s “Liuhoulun.”
It was a roundabout way of saying that China understood that Korea was in an awkward situation but asked to remain composed. The gift is considered a symbol of how difficult it is to follow what China wants. Six years have passed, but the situation remains the same. What has changed was that he is now the ambassador to Washington, and in 2014, he has already said that asking China to play a role in North Korean denuclearization was “a mission impossible.” Beijing has no intention of playing the role. In the meantime, North Korea went on with the fourth nuclear test, and the international community, including Korea and the United States, hopes China to get involved. It is a vicious cycle.
Now, a controversy surrounding Tzuyu, a member of the K-pop group Twice, has stirred China. The producers of a variety show on MBC gave her a Taiwanese flag, not understanding the political ramifications. JYP, the singer’s management company, feared the power of the Chinese market and made Tzuyu apologize. The lack of understanding of China and the fear of losing the Chinese market made the controversy explode. The actions of JYP show that China’s presence is significant not just in international politics but also in popular culture.
The government, which swallowed the criticism for leaning towards China and boasted “best Korea-China relations ever,” is incompetent. What we need is not pro-Chinese or anti-Chinese. We need to use China, but it is not easy. Seoul needs to come up with a delicate strategy to deal with China. Perhaps, the Korean government could have made a diplomatic message to congratulate the election of Taiwan’s new president, Tsai Ing-wen, who said that the Tzuyu scandal helped her get elected. Seoul needs to review whether Korea kept it’s actions limited in regards to China. It is too much to ask China to take on a mission impossible when Korea does not change.
The author is a political and international news writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 22, Page 31
by CHUN SU-JIN