By Park Jinho
In the aftermath of a successful summit meeting between Korea and the U.S., the Park Geun-hye administration is preparing for a summit meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The key strategic points to consider are how to define Korea’s role and which responsibilities to share with China and the U.S. as well. During President Park’s recent visit to the U.S., she seems to have been successful in articulating her diplomatic initiatives such as the ‘Trust-building Process’ with North Korea and ‘Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative.’ Without gathering support from China and the U.S., the Park administration would be likely to face strategic difficulties with implementing these ambitious plans. Unlike the recent Korea-U.S summit, President Park is relatively free from recognizing her predecessor during a meeting with President Xi in that during the presidency of Lee Myung-bak, President Xi was not the leader of China, and there was no equivalent of the ‘2009 ROK-US Joint Vision Statement’ between Korea and China.
First, President Park should define her own understanding of a strategic cooperative partnership agreed in 2008 between Korea and China. Interestingly, since a diplomatic normalization between the two nations in 1992, every Korean President has established a different relationship with China: Roh Tae-woo established a ‘friendship and cooperative relationship’ in 1992, there was a ‘full-scale cooperative partnership’ during the presidency of Kim Dae-jung, a ‘comprehensive cooperative partnership’ during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, and a ‘strategic cooperative partnership’ under Lee Myung-bak. How President Park will communicate her understanding of the Korea-China relationship with President Xi will be a strategic guidance and of value for future bilateral cooperation. Through the summit talks, the two leaders are required to articulate their future roadmap for overcoming the so-called ‘Asia’s Paradox’ defined by President Park including a correct understanding of history.
Second, President Park has articulated her grand vision for the ‘Trust-building Process’ with North Korea. China has a different strategic interest in dealing with North Korean issues, although Korea, China, and the U.S. do not want instability in Northeast Asia. China recently has taken different actions against North Korea. Yet, it is too early to tell if China’s policy toward North Korea is changing. And, the relationship between China and North Korea is more flexible in comparison to that between South Korea and China. In this regard, President Park should explain her ideas for the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula from China’s perspective including how ‘Trust-building Process’ will contribute to China’s strategic interests on the Korean Peninsula. In addition, it is of great importance in a strategic sense that the two leaders exchange their views regarding a peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula regardless of their differences.
Third, as Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se has already proposed a trilateral strategic dialogue among Korea, China, and the U.S., President Park needs to share a common vision for the dialogue with President Xi. Korea’s bridging role between the two super powers is not appropriate because it is hard to expect that either China or the U.S. wants Korea to have an influence on a balance of power between the two powers. While all three leaders are well aware of the areas of tension and cooperation between the United States and China, one recent positive signal about U.S.-China relations are efforts to improve bilateral military relations. Under these conditions, President Park is required to discuss clearly with President Xi what Korea can do ‘with’ and ‘between’ China and the U.S. beyond dealing with North Korean issues. And, it is not a critical variable, but necessary to review the role by other countries such as Australia between China and the U.S.
Fourth, as Korea and China continue their FTA negotiations, President Park should consider what message she will discuss with President Xi. China is Korea’s largest trading partner. Now, China is the world’s second largest economy. Since the launch of free trade agreement negotiations in May 2012, Korea and China have concluded five rounds of negotiations. There seems to be a long way to go. It should be noted that Korea is the only Asian country who agreed to FTA with the U.S. and the EU. The EU is China’s biggest trading partner. China and the EU agreed to launch negotiations on a bilateral investment agreement at the 15th EU-China Summit in 2012. At the same time, President Obama has already expressed his strong intention for negotiating the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with Europe. Under these situations, in approaching the Korea-China FTA, the Park administration needs to explore its role and capability for moving together with China toward regional economic integration across the Asia-Pacific.
Lastly, Japan’s recent irresponsible activities are increasing regional diplomatic tension and could be on the regional level agenda for discussion at the summit. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s aide recently made a surprise visit to North Korea. Although it is not certain whether the U.S. was consulted in advance, it is a kind of deviation from international efforts to ‘acting together’ regarding North Korea. Concerning Prime Minister Abe’s return to office, there are mixed views in Korea, China, and the United States. In this regard, President Park and Xi are able to discuss their message to Japan not for containing or ostracizing Japan, but for showing how Korea and China perceive Abe’s recent right-wing or revisionist activities.
President Park’s visit to Beijing is an opportunity to create momentum for charting the path she has laid out for her regional initiatives. While the summit meeting with President Park also presents President Xi an opportunity to express his vision for Asia.
The writer is a legislative assistant to Rep. Jinha Hwang of the ruling Saenuri Party and a non-resident fellow of the Korea Defense & Security Forum (KODEF) in Seoul. The views expressed here are his own.
Photo from Francisco Diez’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.