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Overcoming the obstacles

Author: DONG XIANGRONGSilver Editor Source: China Daily GlobalTime :2023-12-29 09:50:38

China and the ROK need to forge consensus on future development of bilateral relationship 

On Aug 24, 1992, an adversarial relationship between China and Republic of Korea was shifted to establishing diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level, which made a great contribution to the ending of Cold War in the region. Since then, the relations between China and the ROK have made considerable progress, effectively enhancing the well-being of the two peoples and promoting regional peace, stability and prosperity. China-ROK ties are undoubtedly a relatively successful case in the history of postwar international relations.

In terms of political security, the two countries have shaken off the shackles of the Cold War, deepened political mutual trust, and gradually accumulated consensus on security. When the world witnessed great changes at the end of the 20th century, the ROK established diplomatic relations with China and the Soviet Union without damaging its ties with the United States, which helped greatly expand its "international space", bolstered its status and realized the significant "Pareto Improvement" in diplomatic relations. The establishment of diplomatic relations with the ROK was also a critical step for China to step up its reform and opening-up and strive for a breakthrough in relations with countries that it had not established diplomatic relations with. China has established normal diplomatic ties with both the ROK and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and has maintained relatively smooth contacts with both. Since the establishment of China-ROK diplomatic relations, the situation in Northeast Asia has been relatively stable, creating a favorable security environment for the region's economic growth.

As for economic ties, the cooperation between China and the ROK has progressed in leaps and bounds over the past 30 years. Among major developed countries, the ROK recognizes China as a market economy. China and the ROK signed a bilateral free trade agreement in 2015, and after further negotiations, it is expected to include the service trade. China has been the ROK's top trading partner and the largest contributor to the ROK's trade surplus for many years. In 2022, the ROK is expected to become China's second-biggest trading partner country. According to the data of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, the actual investment of the ROK in China had reached $90.2 billion by the end of 2021, making the country a major source of foreign capital for China. Due to the huge trade and investment, China and the ROK have formed interdependent economic ties with relatively stable industrial and supply chains. As important members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, they are also major forces in regional economic cooperation. Their development has helped make East Asia a key engine for global economic growth.

The two countries also have frequent cultural and people-to-people exchanges. The annual personnel exchanges and visits between China and the ROK peaked at 10 million before the COVID-19 pandemic, which was considerable, since the two countries are not connected by land but only by sea and air routes while the population of the ROK is 52 million.

Of course, China-ROK relations also encounter problems, which require the wisdom of both sides to deal with them in a proper manner.

In terms of politics and security, the ideological divergences between the two countries have been exacerbated, and the new Cold War mindset is spreading in Northeast Asia. The two countries also have different solutions to the Korean Peninsula's nuclear issue. The ROK's acceptance of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system has become a sensitive issue.

Economically, the countries have steered from "chiefly complementary" toward competing. The growth rate of the ROK's investment in China has decreased, and the proportion of its new investment in China in the total amount of the country's outbound investment has dropped, resulting in the impression that the ROK's investment has withdrawn from China to the US, Southeast Asia and other places. The excessive securitization of economic issues has cast a shadow on economic relations between China and the ROK.

The historical and cultural connection of the two countries should have been an important carrier for enhancing recognition and goodwill, but cultural spats have erupted from time to time. The young generation of the two countries have strong nationalist sentiments and may slide toward populism in the public opinion environment of the internet.

In the future, China and the ROK need to forge consensus on peaceful development, put more emphasis on their relations in their diplomacy and highlight the autonomy of bilateral ties.

China and the ROK need to face up to their ideological divergences and conduct more high-level visits and exchanges to promote political mutual trust. The former needs to positively evaluate the development achievements of the ROK as one of the major developed countries, while the latter needs to accept and adapt to China's rise. The ROK should accurately grasp the structural changes in the international landscape and seek to take advantage of the development opportunities presented by China's rise, rather than siding with forces trying to curb China's rise. Both sides need to respect each other's major security concerns, effectively manage and control risks, and avoid security dilemmas where the pursuit of self-security unintentionally causes a deterioration of the security environment. In the field of economic cooperation, China and the ROK need to upgrade their cooperation and seek coordination in competition. In terms of personnel exchanges, they need to be objective and rational, forge closer bonds among the two peoples and not allow populism to kidnap bilateral relations.

At the regional level, the two countries have common interests in maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and preventing a deterioration of the regional security environment. Both countries should soberly realize that if the region is turbulent, the favorable environment for the economic development of the two countries will disappear. Under some circumstances, negative cooperation is similarly important. From the perspective of regional economic integration, China and the ROK have reached important consensus on cooperation and development, and both seek to expand regional cooperation through mechanisms such as a China-Japan-ROK free trade agreement and the Greater Tumen Initiative. The consensus and the interests between two countries are to be transformed into active actions in cooperation by breaking down resistance.

At the global level, China and the ROK are consistent in maintaining an open global economic order and upholding globalization, since they are both open economies with a high external dependence and their economic growth in the past decades has obviously benefited from the open international economic system. The two countries should take a clear-cut stand against the building of a "small courtyard with high walls" to contain a country's high-tech sectors, uphold the principle of openness and inclusiveness, maintain the stability of the global industry and supply chains, practice multilateralism, and develop a more just, rational and civilized global governance system with joint efforts.

Overcoming the obstacles