Monday, June 5, 2017

Sino-South Korean relationship needs to overcome misunderstanding

Image from article, with caption:Jeju forum - courtesy of Qu Mingzhu

Editor's Note:

Public diplomacy plays an important role in bilateral relations. Nowadays tensions are simmering on the Korean Peninsula due to the North Korean nuclear issue and controversy between China and South Korea over the deployment of THAAD. How can public diplomacy be improved to alleviate tensions? What role can think tanks play in this? One panel of the 2017 Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity hosted by the Chahar Institute discussed these issues.

Han Fangming, founding chairman of the Chahar Institute [:]

Currently the North Korean nuclear problem is getting more serious by the day, and China and South Korea's conflict surrounding the THAAD issue needs to be solved. The security environment of Northeast Asia is at a crossroads again. However, China and the US have arrived at many agreements on Peninsular issues, and South Korea has established a relatively gentle and flexible new government. As the Peninsula arrives at a crisis point, it also faces opportunities to establish new security mechanisms and even peace mechanisms.

Think tanks in China and South Korea should cooperate in providing fruits that contribute to a peace mechanism that Northeast Asia can share. I have the following suggestions: First, we should have a common goal and establish common projects. Second, we should discard the Cold War mentality and ideological aversion. Third, we should establish transparent dialogue mechanisms, making sure we understand the other side's position, strategy and policy. Fourth, we should center around Chinese and Korean think tanks but also cooperate with think tanks in US, Japan, and Russia and so on.

Zhang Zhongyi, editor-in-chief of the AJU news corporation and director of Chahar Institute's Seoul Office [:]

Twenty-five years after China and South Korea first established diplomatic relations, both countries have developed marvelously, especially in economic and cultural cooperation. But since South Korea and the US decided to deploy THAAD last year, the relations have turned frigid. THAAD acts as a microscope, enlarging the conflicts and diversions between China and South Korea. Differences have always existed, though people overlooked them when relations appeared to be improving. We share a common culture, but have ideological differences. We are close geographically but are distanced in values. We all pursue development but our political systems are so different.

In order to improve public diplomacy in both countries, we should focus on the following: First, we should have a correct understanding of Sino-US relations. Many people in China and South Korea still view the relationship with Cold-War thinking. We should make them realize through public diplomacy that this type of thinking is no longer suitable for this era and that common ground between China and the US will increasingly be more important than their differences.

Second, we should have a correct understanding of South Korea-US relations. Conservative forces in South Korea fear China might come between the South Korea-US alliance, but China doesn't need to do such thing so long as the alliance doesn't target China.

Third, a correct understanding of China-North Korea relations is needed. There are some in South Korea saying China "shelters" or "uses" North Korea, or exaggerates China's influence on North Korea, which damages the trust between both nations.

Fourth, we should have a correct understanding of China's role in Peninsular unification. China encourages the Peninsula to peacefully and autonomously unify. It opposes a "rushed unification" under immature circumstances or military actions that overlook unintended consequences.

Kim Jae-chun, professor of Graduate School of International Studies at Sogang University [:]

A recent poll by a Korean think tank shows that South Koreans view China as the most dangerous country in the region. The same sentiment can be found in China toward South Korea. However, when President Xi Jinping visited South Korea in 2013, he left a good impression on South Koreans. When former president Park Geun-hye visited China in 2015, she was also well received by the Chinese people. The two countries' relations were great back then.

Think tanks play an important role in mending relations. We need to have discussions and cooperation in a variety of fields, such as disaster relief or counter terrorism, to increase mutual trust and understanding, which will make it easier to solve the current crisis in our relationship. We need to take things step-by-step and build a strong foundation, this is the most important part of public diplomacy as provided by think tanks.

Han In-taek, director of research at the Jeju Peace Institute

We all want the relationship between the two countries to develop more normally. The Sino-Korean relationship isn't only about mutual benefits, but also shared values. However, South Korea and China currently have different views. China hopes the relationship can go beyond tourism, and maybe grow into military, safety and deepening exchanges between enterprises, while South Korea mainly focuses on economic relations.

It's important that South Korea take the initiative to push forward Sino-Korean relations. I personally think that South Korea should focus more on diplomacy with the Chinese government. Chinese public attitudes usually follow government judgment and Chinese official media plays a very important role in this. So if the Chinese and South Korean governments are friendly, the public will have a friendly attitude toward South Korea. If the two governments fall out, the public is highly likely to have a negative attitude.

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