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South Korea’s elastic diplomacy vital

Global Times (2013-06-28 P12)
By Global Times

South Korean President Park Geun-hye kicked off her visit to China Thursday. Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks with Park and a joint statement on the future vision of China-South Korea relations was issued. There have been wide speculations on the geopolitical significance of the visit. Some Japanese scholar held that the Xi-Park summit would be likely to change the balance of power in Northeast Asia, providing China with a dominant diplomatic role. Both China and South Korea are unwilling to heed such an exaggerated opinion.

China, as a rising power, and South Korea, as a typical middle-ranking nation, are often classified into different camps in the analysis of Northeast Asian power patterns. Such divisions are outdated. As complicated as the Northeast Asian situation is, the mutual attraction between China and South Korea is irresistible. Nonetheless, every move that makes bilateral ties closer could cause political waves.  

Northeast Asia is one of the most prosperous regions in the world, but it is also full of confusion. Is there peaceful economic competition and cooperation in the region? Are countries preparing for an imminent military clash? And is the region a frontline or a buffer for contention among major powers? There are no absolute answers for these questions.

South Korea could be either the most flexible or the most inelastic player in Northeast Asia. It is "kidnapped" by the Korean Peninsula situation, while it can maneuver in its relations with several big powers. The Roh Moo-hyun administration once publicly promoted making South Korea a "balancer in Northeast Asia." The importance of South Korea lies in its elasticity, which could be further increased by the enhanced strength of China.

The South Korea-US alliance is still the basis of Seoul's diplomacy. China shouldn't try to overthrow this. But South Korea's future is still in flux and will have different geopolitical outcomes. 

China and South Korea have strong common ground to move closer to each other, but their interactions are often interrupted by frictions on the Peninsula and in the bilateral relations.

There is no dispute in Sino-South Korean relations as serious as the quarrel over the Diaoyu Islands with Japan, nor is there any demand for strategic competition between the two. Frictions between the two are mostly sensationalistic squabbles at the public level. China's national strength is stronger than South Korea's while South Korea's overall level of economic development is higher than China's. The contrast makes the Chinese and South Korea publics look down upon each other.

In the long run, China has the initiative in the bilateral relationship. The initiative of China depends on its open-mindedness. There is no need for China to take seriously a war of words with South Korea. The South Korean public should restrain themselves to decrease frictions. China's attitude is equally important. The China-South Korea relationship is strategic as well as related to daily life. China should stay open-minded.

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