Implications: China’s engagement with South Korea seems more focused on calibrating Beijing’s position vis-à-vis Washington than addressing tangible challenges shared with Seoul. Its recent meetings with South Korean officials to discuss regional issues closely mirrored a similar arrangement between Seoul and Washington in March. During the US-ROK meetings, both countries discussed cooperation on North Korean issues and peace on the Korean Peninsula. Afterward, the two countries launched working-level dialogues to deal with security issues. Mirroring these discussions, South Korea’s meetings with China in April also focused on denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula. Moreover, the foreign ministers discussed holding a trilateral summit with Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo to further discuss cooperation on the North Korea challenge. Given the close timeframe and markedly similar topics discussed with Washington and Beijing, some foreign affairs observers believe this will be an ongoing strategy that China employs to respond to the Biden administration’s efforts to foster closer relations with South Korea.
Context: China’s move to establish regular meetings with South Korea follows Seoul’s continued closeness with members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or QUAD, which consists of the US, Japan, India, and Australia. In the past month, South Korea met separately with the United States and India to discuss defense issues. South Korea and Japan, despite ongoing tensions, have also expressed renewed interest in trilateral cooperation with the United States to advance peace on the Korean Peninsula. Additionally, officials in Seoul have said they will cooperate with the QUAD on an ad hoc basis despite not formally joining the group. China has expressed concern over South Korea joining the QUAD in the past, with the Chinese FM saying it would be a significant breach of trust between the two nations.
This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.
Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Melissa Cho and Alexandra Langford. Creative Commons image from Flickr account of Republic of Korea