| 19 April 2024, Friday |

South Korean FM going to China for first time in 3 years

The South Korean foreign minister is due to visit China this week for the first time in 3 years, looking for ways to bolster ties even as tensions are running high between Beijing and the United States, the South’s most important ally.

In a statement, South Korea’s foreign ministry said Chung Eui-yong will go to China on Friday, and on Saturday will meet with the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi.

“This meeting of the diplomatic ministers of Korea and China will serve as an opportunity to explore ways to develop bilateral relations between Korea and China and to exchange in-depth opinions on the Korean Peninsula, regional and international issues,” the statement said.

South Korea has been seeking to mend relations with China after a row erupted in 2016 over a U.S. anti-missile system placed in South Korea resulted in a sharp slump in its tourism, cosmetics and entertainment industries, which had prospered thanks to Chinese demand. China is South Korea’s biggest trading partner.

Ties have improved since then, and political leaders from both countries have visited, including most recently, a visit to South Korea by Yi in November. The last time a South Korean foreign minister visited China was in 2017.

Neither side elaborated on the agenda, but one diplomatic source reported that Chung would like to persuade Beijing to ease an informal boycott of Korean entertainment in place since the missile dispute.

The source said a main priority is an easing of restrictions on Korean movies and TV dramas, which are currently facing difficulty being screened in cinemas or broadcast online.

Besides economic issues, South Korea sees China as crucial in reviving stalled denuclearisation talks between the United States and North Korea, a longtime ally of Beijing.

Nonetheless, the new administration of  U.S. President Joe Biden has gotten off to a confrontational start with China, putting South Korea once again on the spot.

At a briefing on Wednesday, Chung rejected the idea that South Korea has to choose between the U.S. and China, or that either side had asked Seoul to make that choice.

“Our basic stance is clear and not at all ambiguous: Based on the solid South Korea-U.S. alliance, the government’s firm stance is to harmoniously improve South Korea-China relations,” he said.

Chung met with Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov last week, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in mid March.

During Blinken’s visit, South Korea earned Beijing’s appreciation by abstaining from harshly criticizing China over rights issues in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, the diplomatic source added.

  • Reuters