China supports end-of-war pact, says Beijing envoy
China fully supports South Korea’s idea of a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War, said Chinese Ambassador to Seoul Xing Haiming in a recent interview, calling it “one stepping stone” toward a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.
“China supports the continued efforts toward a peace treaty, and for related countries to maintain good relations to advance permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula,” said Xing in an interview with Lee Moo-young, managing editor of the Korea JoongAng Daily, at the Chinese Embassy in central Seoul on Oct. 14, ahead of the newspaper’s 20th anniversary.
However, Xing stressed that China, as a country that was involved in the conflict and armistice agreement, “cannot be left out” of any process to reach an end-of-war declaration or peace treaty.
In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September, President Moon Jae-in proposed an end-of-war declaration. Likewise, during a parliamentary audit on Oct. 11, Korean Ambassador to the United States Lee Soo-hyuck indicated that the three countries and China are ready for a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War.
Chinese President Xi Jinping had initially been expected to visit South Korea earlier this year, but the trip was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Xi last visited Seoul in July 2014.
“South Korea is a country [Xi] is prioritizing to visit once the Covid-19 situation stabilizes,” said Xing, in a separate written interview with the newspaper. “This visit will be an important milestone in advancing the two countries’ relations. I believe that the two sides will be able to decide on the direction to advance China-Korea relations and how to elevate our strategic cooperative partnership.”
Xing, known for his fluency in Korean, took the post as top Chinese diplomat in Seoul at the end of January, just ahead of the outbreak.
Despite the Covid-19 situation, Xing actively worked at diplomatic outreach over the past eight months, including overseeing his embassy’s donation of medical masks to Korea’s first coronavirus hot spot, Daegu, in late February and pushing for a fast-track entry system for Korean businesspeople in May.
Xing noted, “While Covid-19 has blocked regular human travel, exchanges between Korea and China have not been deterred and continue on.”
Xing previously was posted as ambassador to Mongolia and served in the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang from 1988 to 1991 and from 2006 to 2008. He was posted in Seoul for a total of over 10 years on three separate assignments.
The following are edited excerpts from the in-person and written interviews.
Q. South Korea has encouraged parties involved to reach a declaration to end the Korean War. Have the South Korean and Chinese governments discussed an end-of-war declaration, and as the top Chinese diplomat to Seoul, have you seen any progress?
A. There are many discussions about the Korean Peninsula issue between China and South Korea. Since the forging of our bilateral relations, we have had many good exchanges on our views on how to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula and how to progress in the future. And there were many similar thoughts. China is a country involved in an end-of-war declaration on the Korean Peninsula situation, as you know. That is why China cannot be left out of the process of making an end-of-war declaration or a peace treaty. China actively supports South Korea changing an end-of-war agreement to a peace treaty. And China supports the continued efforts toward a peace treaty, and for related countries to maintain good relations to advance permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Q. The Chinese government supports an end-of-war declaration; however, North Korea has yet to declare its position on this.
A. That has been China’s active position. An end-of-war declaration, end-of-war agreement, or peace treaty can be seen as one stepping stone. If that is agreed upon by South and North Korea, then China is ready to warmly welcome it. The problem is, South Korea and North Korea need to reach an agreement. It is important to reach an agreement. There is no reason for China to oppose if an agreement is reached by the two sides through dialogue and debate.
Q. Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of China’s Communist Party’s Central Committee, visited South Korea in August and supported Seoul’s push for the peace process on the Korean Peninsula. However, denuclearization talks with the North are at a standstill. What do you think Pyongyang wants, and what is Beijing’s role in this?
A. China is a close neighbor of the Korean Peninsula and also an important related country in the Korean Peninsula issue. China maintains the principle of wanting to resolve issues through dialogue and negotiations to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and the denuclearization of the peninsula and supports the improvement of South-North relations.
The root of the Korean Peninsula issue is the issue of stability and development, and the biggest dilemma is the lack of mutual trust between related countries. Dialogue and negotiations is the only way to resolve the issue.
Q. South Korea and China appear to be the only two countries that may be able to play a mediator role between North Korea and the United States. What role does the Chinese government want to play, knowing both sides’ positions, or will you just wait and see?
A. We have the will to put whatever effort it takes for peace on the Korean Peninsula. However, it is also certain that we did all that we can for the first Singapore summit [between North Korea leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump in June 2018] and the second Hanoi summit [in Vietnam in February 2019]. It is preferable for North Korea and the United States to meet first and hold a dialogue. We would like to see the United States tone down the strong demands and in a reasonable manner, take one step at a time.
Q. The Chinese government has called for a synchronous and phase-by-phase process toward the denuclearization and establishment of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. What is the first stage in this process?
A. Actually, two aspects come together. First, China-U.S. relations, and second, South-North relations need to turn together and head in the right direction. China welcomes whatever agreement is reached between the South and North. There are things that North Korea definitely wants to do, and things that the United States wants, and that is something that can be negotiated and taken one step at a time, toward the right direction. However, rather than China proposing concrete conditions, we would rather like to see talks happen between China and the United States and South and North Korea. China will help out a lot from the side, and provide support so things can head in a good direction. We think this is a better way than doing things ourselves.
Q. You have mentioned that visiting South Korea is a top priority for Chinese President Xi Jinping once the coronavirus situation stabilizes. How much does the situation have to subside in order for a visit to happen?
A. Today marked the 40th anniversary of Shenzhen [in Guangdong Province] becoming China’s first special economic zone. A huge celebration was held, and President Xi Jinping gave a key speech in Shenzhen, which was very important. Last year the city’s GDP was 2.75 trillion yuan [$41.1 trillion], 10,000-fold higher than it was 40 years ago. Shenzhen is also the city with the fifth highest GDP in Asia. […] China also, over its Mid-Autumn Festival, saw some 700 million people travel, which shows that there are not a lot of coronavirus cases in the mainland. However, overseas, it is uncertain what will happen in the fall and winter season.
President Xi considers South Korea as a very important country, and China also considers South Korea-China relations as very important. That is why I believe South Korean President Moon Jae-in continues to extend an invitation for a visit at the appropriate time. As the Chinese ambassador, I also hold high expectations as [President Xi] said he will visit at the appropriate time.
Q. So, does that mean when the coronavirus infections in Seoul reach zero, the situation has subsided?
A. It is not just a matter about Korea — it’s when the situation in the world becomes stabilized. Korea and China are in a relatively good situation. While China is doing well, the world acknowledges that Korea has done very well in containing Covid-19. However, we cannot let our guard down. China is experiencing imported cases, and Korea is also the same. Because there are many cases abroad, we need to discuss what to do.
Q. Are there no other conditions asides from the coronavirus?
A. Politically, South Korea is very important to China and our position is that we wish to visit Korea at an early date to more actively contribute to developing Korea-China relations.
Q. Can we anticipate a visit to South Korea by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang for the Korea-China-Japan trilateral summit planned for the end of the year?
A. China, Korea and Japan as close neighbors have close economic and trade relations and frequent personnel exchanges, and we would like a fusion of interests. If one of these three countries prosper, all of them will prosper. If one country suffers, all countries suffer — that is the Northeast Asia economic community. China believes it is very important for the three countries to continue to gain new progress, and this is what we want. The three countries need to continue to strengthen regional cooperation, recover from Covid-19 rapidly and establish a “safety zone” east of the Eurasian continent.
China supports the smooth convening of a Korea-China-Japan summit this year and looks forward to a stable external environment for Korea to host the summit. While there are still some difficulties in travel between China and Korea because of the Covid-19 situation, I believe that as the coronavirus is contained in a more stable manner, there would be more high-level exchanges between the two countries.
Q. How do you evaluate cooperation between Korea and China in the Covid-19 response, and what is being done to address continued difficulties in travel between the two countries?
A. Korea and China protected and helped each other during difficult times amid the Covid-19 situation and became an international model of cooperation in disease prevention. President Xi Jinping and President Moon Jae-in held two phone calls and highly evaluated the two countries’ quarantine situations and have cooperated together on the Covid-19 response. Secondly, the two countries actively helped each other. When China was threatened by Covid-19, the Korean people actively extended a helping hand. When the situation in Korea was serious, China actively donated and exported quarantine equipment. Thirdly, the two countries established the first joint quarantine cooperation system. Likewise, we established a fast-track procedure to restore global activities.
At the peak of Covid-19, there were less than 10 flights per week between Korea and China, but that has increased to around 30 recently, and the number of flights is high even compared to worldwide figures. We have seen the Korean government takes measures to contain Covid-19 in a timely manner. If the two countries’ effective quarantine measures continue, it appears that Korea and China can increase the number of flights and, through this, enable more frequent travel for people between the two countries.
Q. Are the Korean and Chinese governments sharing information on Covid-19 vaccine and treatment development?
A. As of September, of the eight Covid-19 vaccines in Phase 3 clinical trials, four are developed by Chinese companies. On Oct. 8, China signed an agreement with Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, and joined the Covax Facility. This is an important measure to implement China’s pledge to uphold the concept of a shared community of health and turn a vaccine into a global public good.
Korea and China have an information-sharing system on coronavirus prevention and treatment. The two countries’ governments are exchanging information on this.
Q. North Korea claims that it does not have any Covid-19 cases. Is this true?
A. They have none as far as we have heard. I cannot confirm more specific details as I am the ambassador to Seoul, but I have heard there are none.
Q. The international community is closely watching the intensifying of strategic rivalry between China and the United States and the impact it could have on regional security. How do you view the tensions?
A. Currently, Sino-U.S. relations are in a difficult situation, and the major cause is not China. The United States is currently the only superpower. There is no country that would want to confront the United States, and that is the same for China. The Chinese people love peace by nature, and do not want to challenge the United States. […] China will continue to advance Sino-U.S. relations on the principles of mutual respect, equality and reciprocity, while simultaneously firmly protecting our rights and interests.
Q. There are concerns here that Seoul will eventually be forced to choose sides in the Sino-U.S. rivalry. Some Koreans worry about whether they can completely trust the Chinese government amid such uncertainties. Can you address such concerns?
A. The South Korean government will protect the interests of its people and prioritize its people. That’s the way it should be, and this is the same for any country. However, the tensions between China and the United States are not something that we wanted. Some U.S. politicians are trying to target China’s progress and contain us, making things very difficult for us in many areas. We cannot help but retaliate to attempts to try to shake us up. It is not that we do not know the South Korean position as a U.S. ally and a strategic partner of China. We well understand this. I believe that the Korean government can also protect the interests of its people by following its principles and logic. It is not my position as an ambassador to say what it should or should not do.
Q. What is your view of the so-called Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, involving the United States, Australia, India and Japan, and the U.S.-led Economic Prosperity Network (EPN) initiative seen to be aimed at diversifying global supply chains away from China?
A. The global trend currently is for peaceful development, cooperation and co-prosperity. Any multilateral cooperation has to be open, inclusive and transparent, and closed and exclusive small groups should not be established. It is not conducive to enhancing mutual understanding and trust between countries in the region, and a third country should not be targeted nor have its interests harmed.
Q. Some multinational companies are moving their global supply chain away from China amid the Sino-U.S. trade war. What is China’s response?
A. China’s economy, like the ocean, can endure strong winds and turbulent waves. No external shock or challenges will be able to change China’s positive economic developing trend. […] As we face the post-coronavirus era, Korea should seize the opportunity in China’s development and deepen cooperation to seek joint interests.
Q. Recently, there was controversy over BTS’s Van Fleet Award speech on the Korean War, which resulted in a backlash from Chinese netizens. What is the Chinese government’s position on BTS’s speech, and do you think their remarks could be construed in a manner that could offend China, or is it something in which the government has no role in?
A. China and Korea have a history of thousands of years of friendly exchanges. In that process, the areas that we can understand and share with each other are the important ones. But there can always be problems. Problems can be over differences in perception or differences emotionally. That is not as important. However, my position is that the people of our two countries need to share emotions more closely than before in order to progress our two countries' relations. We need to make such efforts. China and South Korea’s bilateral relations only date back 28 years. How did relations develop so explosively in 28 years? We have a relationship where we trust each other politically, our trade volume is $300 billion [annually], China is Korea’s largest trading partner […] and we each have some 80,000 students studying abroad. I believe we need to even more actively head in this direction in the future. China and Korea’s encounter is no coincidence — it is our wish.
Q. Korea and China’s cultural and people-to-people exchanges have decreased, a situation further exacerbated by the coronavirus situation. Are the two governments proposing anything to address this?
A. South Korea-China relations are a relationship based on trust and confidence between the political leaders. This has to be strengthened through many levels of exchanges between diplomats, parliament and parties. We need to understand what the other party thinks and show consideration. Secondly, we need to discuss the post-coronavirus economy. In the post-coronavirus era, people’s lives will be very changed and the economy would be different from before. We need to communicate and consult each other on new technologies such as new infrastructure and artificial intelligence that will shift the world, and I look forward to an explosive development in terms of human exchanges, once the coronavirus passes, and in culture, tourism, education and other such personnel exchanges.
Q. It has been over eight months since you assumed your post in Seoul, and you have been very active in promoting bilateral relations. Do you have any especially impressionable moments?
A. The Korean people welcomed me very warmly, and I am very thankful for that. Of course, I am working actively, but there are also areas that are lacking and many things that I would like to push for. I am slightly regretful that some of the conditions are not optimal to do so because of the coronavirus situation. […] I will work hard in such areas once the coronavirus situation passes.
BY SARAH KIM, ESTHER CHUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]