Marking 20 years of ties
Seoul, Beijing need to raise mutual understanding
South Korea and China will celebrate the 20th anniversary of their diplomatic ties Friday. During this period, the bilateral relationship made epoch-making strides, especially in the field of socioeconomics.
The neighboring countries witnessed their bilateral trade surge from a meager $6.4 billion in 1992 to $220 billion last year, a 35-fold jump. South Korea’s annual trade with China is bigger than that with the United States and Japan combined. President Lee Myung-bak and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao declared the start of free trade talks between the two countries in January.
South Korea’s cumulative investment in China surpassed $35 billion and China, which boasts the world’s largest foreign exchange reserves, is rapidly expanding investment here. The two countries exchanged 6.5 million visitors last year, a 50-fold rise from 130,000 in 1992. A growing number of Chinese youngsters are excited with “hallyu’’ or the Korean wave and South Korea is a country that sends the most students to the world’s most populous country.
All this progress in bilateral relations notwithstanding, Seoul and Beijing leave a lot to be desired in terms of politics and security. That’s primarily because the two countries have considerable differences in the way they regard North Korea and the United States.
Anti-Chinese sentiment flared up here in 2010, when China refused to join international efforts to condemn North Korea for sinking a South Korean naval ship, killing 46 sailors. The incident highlighted the perception in Seoul that Beijing would always side with Pyongyang even though the Stalinist country commits unforgivable atrocities.
China, for its part, believes that the South Korean government, especially the current Lee administration, is lopsidedly pro-American, harboring suspicions that the U.S. is trying to contain it by using its alliances with Seoul and Tokyo as leverage.
There are several hot issues that could strain the Seoul-Beijing relationship easily. China’s claims to the ancient Korean kingdom of Goguryeo, which has been advancing under its history research project dubbed the “Northeast Project,’’ has irked many South Koreans who vent anger at China’s fresh expansionism. Disputes over the extent of the two countries’ respective exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and illegal fishing conducted by Chinese fishermen in the West Sea are serious enough to derail further development of their relationship at any time.
In 2008, Seoul and Beijing agreed to elevate their relationship to a “strategic and cooperative partnership’’ from a “comprehensive and cooperative partnership’’ but the reality has not been so.
Some South Koreans say that China has become so pompous, increasingly looking down on them, boosted by its rapid economic growth. Some Chinese complain that South Korea, unaware of a changed China, underestimates China and overestimates the U.S.
In an environment where the two countries clash from time to time, they must make efforts to pursue values that can be shared by them on the basis of mutual understanding. The premise is that South Korea and China need each other very much.