Tuesday, April 29, 2008

China should seriously review its relations with South Korea

By China Watcher

There have been a rising trends in anti-China and hostile actions taken by the South Korean government and its people against the Chinese especially over the past few years.

The election of Mr. Lee Myung-Bak as South Korea’s President from the conservative party, early this year, has resulted in a swing in South Korean political environment from a pro-China, anti-USA to pro-USA and anti-China attitude.

Historically, the Koreans and the Chinese are in disputes over the claims on the Goguyo kingdom which may have far reaching consequences over territorial matters in the Province of Jilin neighboring present day North Korea. This issue came to a boiling point two years ago when the Chinese academicians completed a North East Research project and concluded that the Goguyo and Balhae are part of Chinese history. Politicians and historical groups in South Korea were unhappy with the findings and claimed that the Chinese government twisted historical facts and viewed these actions as “aggressive or bullying” tactics used on the Koreans.

Formal diplomatic relations between Beijing and Seoul were only established on August 24, 1992, about 16 years ago. During the Cold War, there were no official relations between the two countries. China has close diplomatic relations with North Korea whereas South Korea has relations with Taiwan.

China and South Korean relations were more complicated with nearly 2 million Chinese citizens of ethnic Koreans residing in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China's Jilin Province who has family relations with Koreans from the North and South.

Over the weekend, in which Seoul was one of the legs of the torch run, there were protests by both the pro-China camps supporting the torch relay and the Korean activists staging against China’s human rights record. According to media reports, there were scuffle between the two camps resulting in some Koreans activists being attacked by the Chinese students. I agree that the Chinese students’ aggressive behavior is unacceptable with no respect for domestic laws but I also believe that there are two sides to a coin - for any reaction there must be a cause or incitement. The Chinese students must have been provoked or taunted with derogatory words from the Koreans activists. Where were the police personnel and how come they are not present to keep the different camps apart during the torch run?

The Prime Minister of South Korean lodged a diplomatic complaint with the Chinese Embassy and the Chinese representative had “regretted” towards the behavior of its students at the torch run. Yesterday, the Korean PM was not satisfied and told the media that the Korean government will take “legal and diplomatic measures” as the illegal protests of these Chinese foreigners are hurtful to national pride. I still cannot comprehend what he was trying to say but I could assure you that that the gesture was unfriendly towards the Chinese people. I could also gather from the few words he said that the “peaceful” protests by the Koreans are allowed but foreigners actions are deemed illegal. Perhaps he was trying to deflect angry one sided public opinions over the issue.

South Korea needs China to revive the 6-party talks on nuclear disarmament of North Korea which is at the final stage. On the economic side, the Koreans are also aware that the Chinese has grown to become a very important trading partner and there is huge vastly untapped huge market for Korean goods. The Chinese obviously needed Korean investments in high technology production which is not forthcoming given the Chinese threat as a reliable competitor in all common economic activities in the near future.

The new South Korean President early visits to US and Japan ignoring China after he was inaugurated clearly indicated where his political direction and affiliation will be, though I have noted that he is supportive of the efforts to improve bilateral links between his country and China in a message to the Chinese President in February this year.

China should not place too much hope on improving Sino-Korean relations under the current South Korean Administration and as such, relations and diplomatic expectations have to be toned down in this present context.

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