How should Yoon deal with China?

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How should Yoon deal with China?

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

The Yoon Suk-yeol administration has started Tuesday. Relations with China are expected to change. I want to point out three things the new administration should take into account when dealing with Xi Jinping’s Chinese government. First, the new administration’s China policy must be formulated based on the fact that China is revolving around one person these days —Xi Jinping. China is nominally a collective leadership, but since Xi became president in 2012, it has become a one-man leadership. All policies move with him. The zero-Covid policy and lockdown have led to agony across China, but the authorities don’t flinch at all. Xi’s accomplishment of zero-Covid policy cannot be damaged.

One other thing to consider is what President Xi is most interested in. What Xi focuses on the most is maintaining his power. How to stay in power in the long term is filling his mind. It is not an exaggeration to say that China’s policy toward Korea will be determined based on how it will affect Xi’s long-term reign. The new government must design its China policy with this in mind.

Second, when communicating with China, it would be better to have advisors who are familiar with China and have them deal with China rather than Korea’s chief executive personally expressing his position.

China’s preferred means of communication is to make a deal with a foreign country through someone from that country that understands best. China hopes to coordinate behind the scenes through someone who understands China’s position very well. As in all diplomacy, advance coordination is not bad. For the new administration, it can have the advantage of reading China’s intention relatively accurately from the start.

Third, I hope the new Korean government does not commit the mistake of setting a timeline when dealing with China. When you are pressed for time, you cannot win against the country of “manmandi,” or “going slow.”

People often say that China is a country where nothing is possible but nothing is impossible. Also, it is a country that believes that time is always on its side. If China realizes that you have to get something done by a certain deadline, you will be caught up in China’s pace.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Korea-China relations. There are more challenges than opportunities. But the new government must not fret. China is not going anywhere. The government’s most important task is building trust calmly from the equal stance of mutual respect.
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