Korea after the Anchorage duel
The author is the Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
On March 19, shortly after the U.S.-China high-level meeting in Anchorage, a CNN correspondent and Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson had an argument in Beijing. The CNN correspondent asked how China could accuse the United States of exceeding the time limit when the U.S. side spoke for less than 5 minutes and the Chinese spoke for more than 23 minutes. When the correspondent also asked the Chinese foreign ministry about China’s reaction to a U.S. official’s description of the meeting — “China focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance” — Zhao Lijian, the Chinese spokesperson, said that China sensed a “strong smell of gunpowder and drama” from the U.S. remarks.
The Anchorage showdown between Yang Jiechi, a member of China’s Politburo, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is over. I reviewed the meeting based on the commentaries on Hong Kong Ming Pao last week. Blinken aimed for a preemptive attack by signaling how the United States has changed from the silence it kept after the Thaad anti-missile system deployment. The Chinese delegation was happy to have an excuse to strike back. They broke a tacit agreement for a two-minute remark. Good at belittling and scorning, China also demonstrated a “condescending” attitude.
China also revealed some weak points. Yang Jiechi said that American democracy should be evaluated not only by Americans but also by people around the world. But it goes against China’s rhetoric that other countries arbitrarily try to evaluate China. In the end, China only antagonized the international community.
Diplomacy is a contest of practical interests, and real interests depend on competency. China does not want to clash with the United States because its composite strength is not on par. The 20th Party Congress next year should not go badly because of the United States. Also, the U.S. cannot overwhelm China alone. Domestic issues like Covid-19, economic recovery and racial discord take priority. Europe, Britain, Canada and Japan are no different. They cannot ignore bilateral relations with China.
With the Anchorage showdown, China declared the end of “waiting for the right time in the shadows.” This year is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. 2027 is the centennial of its military. China is likely to tell the United States to “butt out” of matters related to Taiwan.
Korea needs to take the lead again. It is the last line of defense for Korea to pursue diplomacy of practical interests stuck between the United States and China.