Thinkers Forum

Can China Recover Its Relationship with US-allied South Korea

Many who hold a skeptical view of the ongoing trilateral meeting among China, South Korea, and Japan lack confidence in the compatibility of economic and political visions between China and South Korea. Will experts from China and South Korea echo these views?

May 29, 2024
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The China Academy Picks
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The following text is an excerpt from a broader conversation between Professor Zhang Weiwei, a renowned Chinese political scientist, and Professor Park Tae Gyun from Seoul National University. During their meeting on March 16th, 2024, Professor Zhang and Professor Park exchanged views on an extensive array of topics, including diplomatic relations and economic cooperation between China and South Korea.

Zhang Weiwei:
Now concerning the current relation between China and Korea. As we know, we are facing with some difficulties. Economically, from our reading of the Korean media, there was a perceived threat with the economic rise of China. China is now surpassing South Korea in terms of automobile industry, shipbuilding industry in other areas. So many Korean companies felt threatened. So what’s your view on that?

Park Tae Gyun:
I think nowadays the economic relation is not a zero sum game. We should think about the win-win strategy. On the one hand, I think that the rise of China and Chinese company would be a kind of threat to Korean company. But on the other hand, that could make another chance to have more progress from the Korean perspective. So I think we should talk about both. With regard to the relationship. We have to the consider our relationship for 2016, China and South Korea had really great relationship before 2016. So I think we can recover their kind of relationship in the future. In order to do that, we need more communication, more collaboration. In particular, at the level of the intellectuals, level of the young generation and civil society. We need that kind of mutual understanding, more and more.

South Korea, Japan and China hold a trilateral summit in Seoul.

Zhang Weiwei:
One difficulty I perceived is the United States and this pressure on South Korea as the ally against China, especially in the field of high tech.

For instance, I read the conversations by Huawei leader Ren Zheng Fei, and he’s very open minded. He said, I prefer to have a good cooperations with South Korea, with Japan, with US, with other countries. Yet, because of the imposition of this tech war on China, Huawei has no choice, but to do everything on its own. In the past, if you look at the chip business, United States was strong in designing, and South Korea strong in memory chips, and Japan’s strong in materials, Chinese Taiwan strong in subcontracting testing.

Now, Huawei has to do it all on its own and it succeeded.  It’s very different. US prefers “with us or against us”, you are either with united states or you are against United States. In the case of China, we don’t mind you can be very good friend of the United States, but don’t cut into China’s core interest. I think that Korean people have enough wisdom to keep some distance with the United States.

Park Tae Gyun:
I think that China also should think about the different idea of democracy, the western area. I see from the western perspective, actually very critical to the China’s democracy. But on the other hand, we have to think about the economic, the crisis in the world market. So the including the US all of the government and countries that have the economic difficulties, in particular, in the post pandemic era. So through that, every country as they have the more and more, this kind of protectionism in trade and in the world economy. But I think that they knew that the kind of economic boom in the 1990s, Actually, US China cooperated at that time. So for the future, that kind of cooperation and collaboration between the US and China will be inevitable to overcome that this kind of economic difficulties. But in the future, they realize, now it’s not because they just see only the side of the crisis. They never see the opportunity. And from Korean side actually now several scholars. They believe that is Korea have a chance, because China US have the conflict and both countries, they would like to let Korea to be their own side. So Korea should be, would be friend of China, and would be at the same time friend of US.

Zhang Weiwei:
In other words, Korea became a bridge between two big countries.

Park Tae Gyun:
So my idea is that now is the chance for Korea.

Zhang Weiwei:
Great. So let’s keep this optimistic note. Thank you very much.

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The China Academy Picks
Top picks selected by the China Academy's editorial team from Chinese media, translated and edited to provide better insights into contemporary China.
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