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China-ROK ties advancing into new era

By YANG HAN in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2022-08-26 09:38

Inspired by leaders, neighbors will build on close links, analysts say

With congratulatory messages exchanged on the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties, the presidents of China and the Republic of Korea are expected to lead efforts in ushering in a new era for cooperation between the two countries, experts say.

The messages highlighting the strengths of the bilateral relationship were sent by Chinese President Xi Jinping and his ROK counterpart Yoon Suk-yeol on Wednesday. Xi said China and the ROK should be good neighbors, good friends and good partners, while Yoon said he hopes to explore new directions for cooperation.

"The ROK and China are inseparable," said Lee Hee-ok, director of the Sungkyun Institute of China Studies at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul.

Lee said the two countries are closely linked politically, economically and culturally, adding that China and the ROK should maintain their cooperation framework while pursuing what he called a "dynamic stability" to actively adapt to new changes and external challenges.

Based on an understanding of their differences in system and ideology, Lee said, the two countries should also extend their cooperation from bilateral to regional and international issues. "This is the original meaning of a strategic partnership," he said.

Kang Jun-young, professor of Chinese studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, said both leaders in their messages put an emphasis on strengthening communication.

Kang said it is clear that the ROK will not become anti-China, and the two countries could set aside international issues and find ways to build trust to promote the healthy development of their own bilateral relations.

"China is clearly a good partner and a crucial partner, not only for the ROK's economic vitality but also for stability in Northeast Asia," said Cha Du-hyeogn, principal fellow at The Asan Institute for Policy Studies think tank, adding that both can revitalize the mutual channel of dialogue and promote social and cultural exchange programs.

Increasing trade

Trade between China and the ROK has soared over the past three decades, with China remaining the ROK's biggest trade partner for 18 consecutive years, according to the Chinese embassy in Seoul. China and the ROK signed a bilateral free-trade agreement in 2014; it took effect the following year.

Woo Su-keun, president of the Korea-China Global Association in Seoul, said Yoon's message showed he is keen to improve bilateral ties.

For more comprehensive, sustainable and healthy China-ROK relations, Woo said it is important for the countries to support the development of civil societies as the "seeds" for friendship to eliminate misunderstanding, mistrust and bias.

Korea Institute for International Economic Policy President Kim Heung-chong said the two countries have built a strong production network amid globalization over the past 30 years, and the scale and scope of the trade and investment partnership have increased dramatically.

While the bilateral relationship is facing new challenges as the regional and global business environments change, Kim believes the neighbors can find a new paradigm for their economic relationship to overcome these challenges.

"It is necessary to develop a new partnership between the ROK and China, by strengthening economic ties in high-tech manufacturing, digital, and green industries, expanding the cooperation scope to service and investment fields," said Kim, adding that follow-up negotiations on the China-ROK FTA related to services and investment will be key, along with digital and environmental cooperation.

Citing the words of Chinese philosopher Confucius, "at 30, a man should stand firm", Lee Chang-ho, chairman of the Korea-China Exchange Promotion Committee, said the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties is the starting point for the formation of a new strategic relationship for a new century.

Despite growing protectionism and nationalism in the world, Lee Chang-ho said China-ROK relations are based on mutual respect and care.

"To enhance the ROK-China relations, instead of a shortsighted focus on one country's own benefit, we should focus on the peace and coexistence of human beings," said Lee Chang-ho, adding that areas such as new technologies and semiconductors, as well as a peaceful Korean Peninsula, can form the basis of a new strategic partnership for economic security.

Choi Pil-soo, a professor of Chinese trade and commerce at Sejong University, said China and the ROK have been the largest beneficiaries of globalization over the past 30 years and the two countries have contributed to each other's economic competitiveness.

"If China can be referred to as the world's factory, then the ROK can be referred to as one of the most important providers to that factory," Choi said, adding that ROK companies had begun to invest in China even before the two countries officially established diplomatic relations in 1992.

"Most recently, China has also invested in the ROK in its most advanced areas like e-commerce and electric vehicles."

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