Source: CGTN Published: 2020-08-21
China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi visits the South Korea city of Busan. Yang will meet South Korean National Security Advisor Suh Hoon. The meeting has major geopolitical as well as post-pandemic implications. CGTN Host Tian Wei speaks to scholars from China and South Korea to shed light on this groundbreaking meeting.
When cloud meetings have become the norm, Yang's visit provides a glimpse of a post-COVID future. Zhou Rong, senior analyst from Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies under Renmin University of China, says, "We can now establish a post-COVID bilateral relationship. Instead of using cloud meetings, we can initiate face-to-face meetings. This will not only apply to China and South Korea. But we can even restart trilateral meetings with Japan."
While the most recent COVID-19 spikes in South Korea and the Hong Kong SAR have cooled talk of travel bubbles between China and South Korea, the economic gains from re-establishing travel between the Asian economic powers is palpable. Eunjung Lim, associate professor of the International Studies at Kongju National University, said: "We remain optimistic. China is South Korea's largest trading partner. Chinese tourists contributed to our GDP. We need deeper conversations to block COVID(-19) and recover ties between the two countries. And that is why Yang is coming to Busan."
Yang's visit comes amid growing tension between China and the U.S., with South Korea caught politically and geographically in the middle. Lim said, "With the China-U.S. rivalry, we hope we are not required to choose one or the other." Despite strong economic ties between China and South Korea, with 20,000 Korean companies remaining in China throughout the pandemic, strategic ties may outweigh this. Lim added, "As long as Pyongyang has missiles, the U.S. will bring in its defense systems. South Korea doesn't have many options." But Lim is hopeful that Yang's visit can end this undesirable status quo. Lim said, "Peace in East Asia hinges on the future of the DPRK's nuclear program. I hope Yang can discuss this during his trip."
The U.S. election plays a role in both Washington and Pyongyang's strategy. Zhou pointed out, "(The) DPRK doesn't want dialogue with the U.S. now. They don't want to be a card played by Trump. (The) DPRK would prefer to wait for the U.S. election result." However, this approach by the DPRK is tempered by their desire to deal with the U.S. without mediators. Lim said, "Kim Jong Un wants to deal with the U.S. directly. South Korea's president may be eager to solve the problem, but our role is limited."
The U.S. and the DPRK taking the wait-and-see approach is an opportunity for other players, Zhou observed. "China has always maintained a sound relationship with the DPRK and South Korea. China can act as a middle man. We would like to coordinate any summit request." Lim said, "We do see Yang's visit as encouraging because China-South Korea collaboration is necessary." While the U.S. and the DPRK may not be meeting face-to-face, an in-person meeting between officials from China and South Korea may get the ball rolling for peace in East Asia.
Zhou Rong is a senior fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China (RDCY).
On July 9th 2020, China Public Diplomacy Association, Peking University and Renmin University of China co-hosted "Mutual Respect, Mutual Trust and Cooperation —— The Right Way Forward for China-U.S. Relations" China-US Think Tanks Media Forum. The State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi attended the meeting and delivered the keynote speech. Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China (RDCY) is one of the main organizers of this forum.