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Seoul should not let interference ruin ties: China Daily editorial

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-05-14 20:30

Meeting with his Republic of Korea counterpart Cho Tae-yul in Beijing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi remarked that China and the ROK are close neighbors and it should be natural for their foreign ministers to have frequent exchanges and "to come and go often".

That this has not been the case is due to the steady deterioration of ties after the ROK agreed to the deployment of a US missile defense system on its soil, and Seoul increasingly aligned the ROK with the United States' "Indo-Pacific" strategy, including membership of its China-excluding high-end semiconductor manufacturers' club.

Therefore, the fact that the meeting took place at all, and that both sides pledged to preserve the momentum of constructive engagement, is a positive sign that the ROK recognizes the need to reset its ties with China.

There is no fundamental conflict of interest between China and the ROK. As Wang urged, the two sides should strengthen their communication to eliminate misunderstandings and foster the right perceptions of each other so they can deepen their mutually beneficial cooperation, and be reliable and long-term partners for each other's development process.

This would be conducive to not only strengthening bilateral relations, but also promoting a fruitful trilateral summit of China, the ROK and Japan that is under discussion, and thus the future of the neighborhood going forward.

If the trilateral summit, which has been on hold since 2019, can be resumed soon, as Seoul anticipates, it has the potential to inject precious dynamism into the largely dormant discourse on trilateral cooperation, if not give impetus to restarting the long stalled negotiations on a trilateral free trade agreement.

The present state of China-ROK and China-Japan relations is not in line with the common interests of the three countries, and not what Beijing wants. But despite the reiteration of their common interest in improving bilateral relations, the Chinese and ROK foreign ministers both displayed prudence as to how things will play out, with Wang urging Seoul to "eliminate interference".

Although some domestic media have already read Cho's Beijing visit as his country adopting a change of approach, Wang was more cautious.

"I hope your current working visit will play a positive role in improving and developing China-ROK relations," Wang told his guest.

While Cho's visit may be a signal of Seoul's willingness to adjust its approach to improve relations with Beijing, as some optimistic Chinese analysts observed, the current state of bilateral relations does not allow for too much optimism at this point in time, considering the issues between the two sides, which, as has been observed, have "piled up like a mountain".

The ROK government's proactive participation in the US-led technological blockade against China has no doubt been high on Beijing's list of concerns. What irks Beijing even more is the ROK leader's personal ill-considered remarks on Beijing's core concerns and redlines, most notably regarding the Taiwan question. That was why the Chinese foreign minister urged Seoul to abide by the one-China principle and properly handle Taiwan-related issues.

It is to be hoped that Cho's visit does represent "an important step forward", as he expressed. But that will only be the case if Seoul is willing to make the necessary adjustments to work with Beijing to reboot bilateral relations.

Despite the downturn in their ties, economic and trade cooperation remains large-scale and complementary. Last year, the trade volume exceeded $310 billion and there is still much potential to be tapped by deepening cooperation.

Beijing has repeatedly shown it is willing to work with Seoul. It remains for Seoul to show it is sincere in seeking a "healthier" relationship.

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