14th May 2024 – (Beijing) On 13th May, Wang Yi, Member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Minister of Foreign Affairs, welcomed South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul in Beijing. This significant meeting comes at a pivotal moment for Sino-Korean relations, which have seen both fruitful cooperation and notable challenges in the over 30 years since diplomatic ties were established.

Wang Yi remarked that the relationship between China and South Korea has generally been smooth and productive. However, he acknowledged recent difficulties, emphasising that these are neither in the mutual interests of the nations nor desirable outcomes for China. He expressed a strong desire for both sides to recommit to the original intentions of their diplomatic ties, pursue good neighbourliness, and focus on mutually beneficial cooperation. Wang’s call for removing disturbances to foster stable and healthy relations was a clear signal of China’s readiness to mend and strengthen bilateral ties.

Cho Tae-yul, on his part, expressed hopes that his visit would mark a significant step forward in South Korea-China relations. He underscored South Korea’s approach to foreign relations, which avoids a zero-sum mentality and seeks balanced cooperation with multiple nations. By enhancing mutual trust and focusing on cooperation, Cho aims to sidestep geopolitical constraints and open new avenues for bilateral cooperation.

Cho’s optimistic tone and calls for new momentum in Sino-Korean relations have resonated deeply in South Korea, capturing headlines and sparking extensive analysis. This visit, being Cho’s first as Foreign Minister, highlights the unusual state of current relations and reflects the hopes of both nations’ peoples for a swift return to normalcy. However, Cho’s statements also contrast with South Korea’s recent “pro-American and distancing from China” policies, suggesting a potential recalibration towards improving ties with China.

In the lead-up to this visit, public opinion in South Korea has strongly favoured quickly addressing issues with China to maintain a “minimum balance.” Economic, trade, and cultural exchanges between the two countries have seen a resurgence, with South Korean tourists flocking to Zhangjiajie and the emotional connection stirred by the giant panda Fu Bao symbolising the deep-rooted bonds between the peoples of both nations. Thus, Cho’s visit aligns well with the fundamental interests of both countries.

It is no secret that China-South Korea relations have faced significant challenges recently. Some observers have pointed out numerous unresolved issues that have piled up between the two countries. In this context, the importance of communication and dialogue cannot be overstated. The historical ups and downs should make it clear to both sides, especially South Korea, that there is no fundamental conflict of interest or strategic competition between them. Instead, there are many interdependencies and internal dynamics that bind the two nations.

Stabilising and developing China-South Korea relations aligns with the common interests of both countries and meets the expectations of their vast populations and business communities. These relations should not be disrupted by third-party influences. Both nations must adhere to principles of independence, mutual respect, and mutual benefit to maintain a stable and long-lasting bilateral relationship.

High-level exchanges and the creation of stable expectations are vital for the future of China-South Korea relations. Cultivating a rational attitude and fostering a positive atmosphere are equally important. While there is some objective competition in the industrial field, this is not the dominant aspect of China-South Korea economic and trade relations. The large scale and strong complementarity of their economic ties hold significant potential for further development.

Representatives of South Korean companies have echoed these sentiments, noting the mutual benefits derived from the Chinese market over the past 30 years and expressing confidence in continued cooperation for the next 30 years. There is no need for China and South Korea to fall into a self-fulfilling prophecy of competition or hostility.

The meeting between Cho and Wang is just the beginning of a series of diplomatic dialogues and interactions between China and South Korea. These will include the ongoing coordination of the China-Japan-South Korea trilateral meeting. For both countries, and especially for their peoples, the goal is not just to restore exchanges in form, but to develop substantive content.

Cho’s visit to China signifies a positive step forward. The hope is that this will lead to more positive steps from the South Korean side, fostering healthy and stable bilateral relations. As the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi aptly put it, the healthy and stable development of China-South Korea relations is in line with the trend of the times and the fundamental interests of the two peoples.

Both China and South Korea need a stable and friendly bilateral relationship—a shared desire that requires a foundation of consensus and national interest-based policies. Such a foundation can guide the development of stable and healthy China-South Korea relations.

Before his departure to Beijing, Cho Tae-yul emphasised his intention to have “an honest dialogue” with his Chinese counterparts. This intention underscores a critical juncture where both nations must navigate their differences through transparent and constructive communication.

As Wang Yi mentioned, the relationship should evolve based on mutual respect and benefit, avoiding unnecessary disruptions from external forces. This meeting could set a precedent for future engagements, where both nations focus on shared goals and address challenges through continued dialogue.