Two faces of China
North Korea’s fourth nuclear test and long-range missile are shaking the foundation of the Korea-China relations. Deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile system can change the strategic topography of Northeast Asia. Korean public is cold towards China as China turned blind eye to North Korea’s provocation despite “best-in-history” relationship with Korea. It is the harmful effect of wishful thinking.
Korea’s view on China was shaped by history. Yonsei University history Prof. Baik Young-seo finds the root from the reformists in the late Joseon period. The three views, “loser,” “reform model” and “power balancer,” were formed at that time. China’s defeat in the Sino-Japanese War in 1894 was a turning point, when China went from strong country to loser. The cold perspective was enhanced during the Japanese colonial period, and Korea became condescending to China. Then, the late-Qing reform movements and Xinhai Revolution led to the Chinese model theory. The advocates of East Asia’s co-prosperity consider China as a balancer. As China rises in the 21st century, its role as a balancer is highlighted. However, these three views are what Korea wants to see from China.
China is not much different. China learned from Korea’s fate of being colonized by Japan. After the March 1 Independence Movement, China began to consider Korea a partner. Liberation and the division of the peninsula split China’s view of Korea. North Korea became a blood brother while South Korea became an enemy state. After reform and opening, China saw a new face of South Korea it had hoped to see again, and a diplomatic ties were made. Both China and Korea were looking at each other with a mirror in between and failing to see the real faces.
The mirror has emerged once again since the North’s nuclear test. But this time, China packaged it as “national interests.” After Seoul and Washington made the Thaad deployment official, a young Chinese scholar underscored in a telephone conversation that common interests still play a big part in Seoul-Beijing relations. The common interest he was referring to is the maintenance of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, on which Beijing puts the highest priority in its strategies over the peninsula. On the Thaad deployment, the professor simply said it’s a serious challenge to China’s core interests, dismissing the raging public opinion in South Korea.
South Korea has kept its own “wishful thinking,” as seen in the joint communique by Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, after their meeting on Thursday in Munich. China’s foreign ministry explained that Wang expressed his serious concerns about the Thaad with remarks that sanctions against the North cannot be a goal by themselves. That’s a euphemism for strong opposition to the deployment. The phrase could not be seen in the statement released by our Foreign Ministry.
China deals with the Korean Peninsula from the frame of rivalry with the United States, with the unspoken rule of not siding with either Seoul or Pyongyang. The direction of the post-Thaad Korea-China relations is hidden in China.
The author is Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 13, Page 26
by SHIN KYUNG-JIN