By Chung Min-uck
Seoul is shifting its focus to Beijing, its largest trading partner, with their bilateral relationship now stretching out to diplomacy and security. Ironically, the ties between the two nations are getting stronger thanks to North Korea's nuclear threat.
"President Park Geun-hye's trip to Beijing will serve as the cornerstone for the two nations to broaden their cooperation in diplomacy and security, because China, like South Korea, wants to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue," said Woo Su-keun, professor at Donghua University in Shanghai. "South Korea now needs a balanced approach between the U.S. and China."
China, the only nation that can exert meaningful influence on North Korea, is currently shifting its policy focus on Pyongyang. Since the North's February nuclear test, it backed a U.N. sanctions resolution and suspended one of its major banks' transactions with North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank. It has also expressed firm commitment to denuclearize North Korea on numerous occasions including when North Korean the envoy of leader Kim Jong-un visited Beijing last month.
Reflecting the importance of China and change in the stance, President Park opted to visit the giant neighbor on Thursday as the second destination of her overseas trip. Traditionally, presidents here have chosen Japan as a follow-up destination after the United States.
In the international edition of China's state-run People's Daily newspaper published on Thursday, Professor Wang Yiwei from the Renmin University of China writes that "external factors" such as North Korea's nuclear threat and U.S.' alliance with South Korea have been interfering with Seoul-Beijing relations and that the two nations need to overcome these "barriers" by readjusting their ties.
"With Washington and Beijing searching for a ‘new type of great power relationship,' Seoul doesn't have to adopt an indefinite stance of ‘relying its economy on Beijing and security on Washington' like before," Wang wrote.
Instead, the professor urges Seoul to take full advantage of the new U.S.-China relations, by upgrading its ties with Beijing.
The great new power relationship calls for mutually beneficial ties between Washington and Beijing by avoiding the sort of conflict that affects their respective core interests. Many analysts see it as an opportunity for South Korea to take the initiative of raising the problem of the nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.
Meanwhile, according to the latest survey conducted by pollster Real Meter, 83 percent of respondents said ties with China are more important than that with Japan. Only 11.7 percent backed Japan. Asked about future relations with China, 85.1 percent answered in the affirmative.
China also came in second place, trailing behind the U.S., on South Korea's preferential nations in maintaining peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Besides this, similarity in Park and Chinese President Xi Jinping's personal background is drawing attention as well.
Park and Xi have political lineage with both being sons and daughters of prominent political figures.
Park is the daughter of late President Park Chung-hee who ruled the country for 18 years until 1979 when he was assassinated by the then head of the Korea Central Intelligence Agency.
Late Park, albeit being a dictator, is highly appreciated for having laid the foundation for South Korea's industrialization and economic prosperity. However, President Park had to live in seclusion for almost 20 years after her father's death before returning to public life.
Xi is also a child of Xi Zhongxun, a significant figure in the 1949 Communist revolution in China. China is currently run by the Communist Party. President Xi also lived a secluded life for years during the 60s because his father was purged from his position in the party during the Cultural Revolution.
The two leaders met for the first time in 2005 when Xi visited Seoul as the Governor of Zhejiang Province.
Park and Xi then exchanged views on the development path of the two nations.