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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 13

Editorials from Korean dailies 06:59 January 13, 2023

Undeterred giant
China slammed for 'emotional' retaliation

China is putting the whole world on edge for the second time in three years.

Faced with Beijing's abrupt end to its zero-COVID policy and the reopening of its borders, many countries are tightening quarantine rules on Chinese arrivals.

According to experts, the pandemic's peak in China, when most people get infected or vaccinated and have immunity, has yet to come. If so, taking every possible step to prevent its spread is good for the rest of the world ― and China.

But Beijing seems miffed at other countries' self-protective measures, calling them "unscientific discrimination." One can't help but ask what's unscientific about requesting pre-flight certification of a negative PCR test within 48 hours or a negative RAT test within 24 hours for entrants from a country with hundreds of millions of confirmed cases.

Korea added weeklong mandatory quarantines for confirmed arrivals and the suspension of short-term visa service for private-purpose entrants. Beijing is responding with tit-for-tat steps, refusing to issue even transit visas for Korean and Japanese travelers. Such reactions amount to emotional and "unscientific" retaliation, as Korea and Japan have long passed the pandemic's peak.

China provided few scientific grounds three years ago when it closed its borders. However, the previous Moon Jae-in government kept open Korea's doors even longer than China did and came under fire for the subsequent spread of the pandemic. Korea can ill afford to repeat such a fatal blunder. Experts do not rule out the possibility of a new variant of the virus appearing. Beijing must share correct information with its neighbors first in order to avoid another crisis.

The friction between Korea and China over the COVID-19 fight is but one aspect of their unbalanced relationship. Beijing has yet to lift its ban fully on Korean imports, including cultural items, citing Seoul's deployment of a U.S. defense system against North Korean missiles, saying it is aimed at China. China's government historians have long attempted to erase the history of Goguryeo, an ancient Korean kingdom that once threatened the Tang Dynasty. Some Chinese YouTubers claim everything Korean ― even kimchi ― as theirs.

According to a survey by Pew Research, a U.S. pollster, the proportion of Koreans who dislike China has surpassed 80 percent. Even among those China-averse countries, Korea stands out because people in their 20s and 30s, the so-called MZ generation, dislike China more than their older counterparts. These young Koreans even hate China more than Japan, indicating a significant change in the relationship between the three Northeast Asian countries a few decades later. Some replied they "hate" China because the giant neighbor treats Korea in heavy-handed ways, while they believe the world's most-populous country creates pollution and diseases that spread to Korea.

Part of the reasons lay with Korean leaders, too.

In September 2015, President Park Geun-hye stood on top of Tiananmen gate side by side with Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, inspecting a military parade. Soon, she decided on the U.S. missile shield deployment. It would have been good if the seemingly abrupt about-face, which surprised both Washington and Beijing, was a highly calculated diplomatic move. Her successor, Moon Jae-in, was unnecessarily low-key in dealing with China, inviting political attacks from conservatives for being "subservient" to Beijing. Aside from ideological bias, Moon's stance was not desirable even if it aimed to improve inter-Korean ties.

President Yoon Suk Yeol has made it clear over the past seven months that he would move far closer to the U.S. in the three-nation relationship. However, Yoon has yet to unveil his concrete ideas for dealing with China. Seoul was right not to exclude Beijing, unlike Washington and Tokyo, in its "Indo-Pacific" strategy announced recently. China has grown too big to shun or ignore.

That does not necessarily mean Seoul should accept Beijing's whims and whines. Korea should take the hand of any country for its national interests. Likewise, it should be able to confront any if they hurt or ignore its interests or dignity, however large and powerful such counterparts may be.

Korea ought to remain attentive lest China's "great power diplomacy" degenerate into superpower chauvinism for its neighbors.

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