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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 30)

All News 07:20 November 30, 2020

Need for flexible diplomacy
: Wang Yi's visit raises both hope and anxiety

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's three-day visit to South Korea last week was aimed at cementing relations and boosting cooperation between the two countries. During a meeting with President Moon Jae-in on Friday, Wang reaffirmed Beijing's support for Seoul's efforts to settle peace and promote denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.

Yet his visit has raised both hope and anxiety. Wang sent a positive message by committing to strengthening bilateral collaboration in various fields such as economy, trade, culture and regional issues. He also raised concerns that Beijing might use better ties with Seoul to counterbalance U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's bid to strengthen ties with American allies to restore its global leadership.

That's why the Moon Jae-in administration needs to push for flexible diplomacy to beef up the strategic partnership with China, while rebuilding the South Korea-U.S. alliance. It is imperative for Seoul to strike a balance between Beijing and Washington, particularly at a time of a leadership change in the U.S.

South Korea's economic growth has relied on China, the country's largest trading partner. On the other hand, the country has long depended on the U.S. for its defense and security. For this reason, Seoul should maintain better relations with both Beijing and Washington. The problem is, however, that South Korea could be caught up in an intensifying conflict between the global giants over trade, technology and security.

The incoming Biden administration is feared to take a tougher stance on China than the outgoing Trump administration, although the president-elect has promised to work with China on global issues such as climate change. Trump's unilateralism and "America first" policy has already triggered a trade war with China, deepening a new global rivalry. If Biden steps up efforts to check a more assertive China, the rivalry between the two countries will become intensified. In that case South Korea could get caught in the crossfire.

The Moon administration, for its part, will have to walk a tightrope to avoid any fallout from the mounting Sino-American conflict. Moon should take flexible and proactive diplomacy to protect our national interests. He needs China's active role in prodding North Korea to return to denuclearization talks which have been deadlocked since a no-deal summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un in February 2019.

What's worrisome is that Minister Wang reaffirmed his country's position against the deployment of a U.S. antimissile battery on South Korean soil which triggered Chinese trade retaliation. He also reportedly told South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha to better deal with sensitive issues concerning the two countries. His remarks could be seen as a "warning" to Seoul.

China seems to try to bring South Korea closer to its side ahead of the inauguration of Biden as the new U.S. president. But it should not attempt to force South Korea to take its side. We hope that China will play a constructive role in promoting peace, stability and co-prosperity in Northeast Asia without pursuing regional hegemony and global dominance.

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