A gap hard to narrow

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A gap hard to narrow

The author is the head of the China Institute of the JoongAng Ilbo.

President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol and Chinese President Xi Jinping had their first phone conversation on March 25. While they exchanged well-wishing remarks, the sharp difference in their position obviously exuded tension.

What did Xi want to tell Yoon? Xi emphasized three things in Korea-China relations: mutual respect, political trust and non-governmental friendship. What does mutual respect mean? A hint can be found on the March 11 editorial on China’s Global Times. The newspaper evaluated that the three No’s of the Moon Jae-in administration were the results from implementing mutual respect. The three No’s are: no additional Thaad deployments, no joining of a broader U.S. missile defense system and no Korea-U.S.-Japan military alliance.

This directly clashes with Yoon’s campaign promise of “additional Thaad deployment.” Xi’s “reinforcement of political trust” is also related to the Thaad. Former Chinese Ambassador to Korea Qiu Guohong said in the Korea-China seminar in January that the biggest cause of the Thaad discord was “lack of political trust between the two countries.” But why did the friendship in the private sector crack? This resulted from Beijing’s restrictions on Korean culture and products in retaliation for the Thaad deployment. While there was no direct mention of Thaad in the phone conversation, the issue will likely be an obstacle between the two countries. I am breaking a sweat as Yoon has made “additional Thaad deployment” his campaign promise.

Xi also emphasized cooperation in the supply chain and addressed the importance of global governance system centered on the United Nations. These remarks are targeting the United States. Everyone knows that the U.S. wants to exclude China from the global supply networks. Whenever America announces measures to check on China, Beijing calls them America’s unilateralism and advocates to solve global issues through the UN. In the era of U.S.-China contest, Xi’s intention is to pull Korea to China’s side.

But what Yoon emphasized in the phone talks — “The national concern is grave as North Korea’s provocation drastically escalated tension in the Korean Peninsula and the region” — is not included in China’s statement. It was represented by a short phrase of “maintaining regional peace.” Xi’s visit to Korea is distant.

I have more concerns than anticipation from the conversation between Yoon and Xi. I hope the two countries would make efforts to ease these worries by making the most out of the 30th anniversary this year of two countries’ diplomatic relations.
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