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S.Korea, China agree to strengthen ‘substantial cooperation’ on economy, culture

Resumption of strategic dialogue comes amid discussion on Xi-Moon summit  

South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun and his Chinese counterpart Le Yucheng hold the virtual session of the ninth Strategic Dialogue on Dec. 23.
South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun and his Chinese counterpart Le Yucheng hold the virtual session of the ninth Strategic Dialogue on Dec. 23.
South Korea and China pledged to strengthen “substantial cooperation” in the fields of economy and culture and agreed on the importance of leader-to-leader and high-level exchanges at a strategic dialogue in more than four years.

South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun and his Chinese counterpart, Le Yucheng, held the virtual session of the ninth Strategic Dialogue on Thursday, the first of its kind since June 2017.

The resumption of the meeting came at a critical time when South Korea and China are in close consultation on the Moon-Xi summit.

The timing is also noteworthy given that Seoul has not yet made an official announcement on whether to join the US-led diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics, which the country still views as an opportunity to make progress on its peace initiative.

At the strategic dialogue, both sides had an “in-depth discussion” on areas of mutual interest, including bilateral relations, Korean Peninsula affairs and regional and international circumstances, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said.

Seoul and Beijing particularly “agreed to strengthen performance-oriented substantial cooperation” in the multifaceted fields of economy, culture, and environment, with the goal of revitalizing cultural exchanges, ensuring the security of a raw material supply chain, and addressing climate change.

During the high-level talks, Choi emphasized the necessity of continuing to expand substantial cooperation and exchanges in each field to develop bilateral relations “in a stable manner,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Both sides also “shared the view on the significance of leader-to-leader and high-level exchanges in improving bilateral relations and agreed to continue strategic communication in various ways including face-to-face and virtual format” despite the COVID-19 challenges.

The strategic dialogue was held after a yearslong freeze in Seoul-Beijing relations that had rapidly began to thaw ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

The Foreign Ministry said both sides discussed the upcoming Olympics and ways to cooperate in reinvigorating the Moon Jae-in government’s peace process including an end-of-war declaration.

“Both sides agreed that the stable management of situations on the Korean Peninsula is important and reaffirmed the shared goal of achieving complete denuclearization and establishing permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the ministry said.

Seoul and Beijing also agreed to “develop their strategic cooperative partnership into more mature and future-oriented relations” on the occasion of marking the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations next year.

In a policy road map for 2022, the Foreign Ministry on Thursday reiterated its plan to further enhance South Korea-China relations, while reinforcing its efforts to manage pending issues and prevent conflicts.

Yeo Seung-bae, deputy minister for political affairs at the Foreign Ministry, confirmed that Seoul and Beijing have continued “close communication” on the Moon-Xi summit.

A senior South Korean government official, who wished to remain anonymous, also suggested South Korea would take the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics as an opportunity to drive momentum for the peace process.

Seoul expects that the Beijing Olympics will serve as an “important turning point to improve inter-Korean relations and an opportunity to contribute to peace in Northeast Asia and in the world,” according to the official.

The official said the Moon Jae-in government would keep an eye on the outcome of consultations between China, North Korea and the International Olympic Committee and seek ways to enhance its role as a country that has hosted the Olympics.

Thursday’s strategic dialogue also came after a series of high-level meetings between Seoul and Beijing, an apparent move to mend bilateral relations mainly strained by the development of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile battery.

Top Chinese Communist Party diplomat Yang Jiechi visited Busan this August in around two years after an unofficial visit to South Korea in July 2018. In November, South Korea’s Ambassador to China Jang Ha-sung had his first one-on-one meeting with Yang since his appointment in April 2019.

South Korea’s national security adviser Suh Hoon visited Tianjin in China earlier this month. During the visit, Suh and Yang discussed a wide range of issues including an end-of-war declaration, supply chain issues, cultural exchanges, and the Moon-Xi summit.

By Ji Da-gyum (dagyumji@heraldcorp.com)
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