The Korea Herald


S. Korea-China ties as crucial as US alliance: FM nominee

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : Dec. 20, 2023 - 14:57

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Cho Tae-yul, the foreign minister nominee, speaks to reporters as he arrives at an office in Gwanghwamun, Seoul to prepare for his parliamentary confirmation hearing on Wednesday. (Yonhap) Cho Tae-yul, the foreign minister nominee, speaks to reporters as he arrives at an office in Gwanghwamun, Seoul to prepare for his parliamentary confirmation hearing on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Cho Tae-yul, the nominee for South Korean foreign minister, told reporters on Wednesday he intends to foster an improvement in Korea-China relations in harmony with Seoul's alliance with Washington.

"Given that the relations between Korea and China are no less important than the Korea-US alliance, I will strive to seek ways to maintain the bilateral ties harmoniously," Cho said to reporters during his first day of preparations for a parliamentary confirmation hearing.

Cho said he sees that "China is well aware of the inevitable repercussions of the strategic competition between the US and China on Korea-China relations."

"Hence, based on shared understanding, I will endeavor to pave the way for developing Korea-China relations smoothly and harmoniously."

Cho also said he will make efforts to facilitate the trilateral summit among South Korea, Japan and China, which has been put on hold since 2019, "as early as possible."

Cho is a retired veteran diplomat with a four-decade-long career, including a role as vice foreign minister, and expertise in trade and multilateral affairs.

The appointee indicated that the foreign policy approach of the Yoon Suk Yeol government, aimed at strengthening ties with the US and Japan, does not imply neglect or ostracization of China.

Seoul and Beijing have participated in dialogues at different levels, including a meeting between the Foreign Ministry's director generals for Northeast Asian affairs on Tuesday in China's Guangdong provincial city of Shenzhen.

Cho said the Korea-US alliance and Korea-Japan relations, as well as trilateral security cooperation among South Korea, the US and Japan, had been neglected for the past years.

"Under the Yoon Suk Yeol government, there has been a concerted effort to restore and strengthen relationships. Consequently, there might be a perception of a particular emphasis on ties between Korea and the US, Korea and Japan, as well as the trilateral relationship involving Korea, the US and Japan," said Cho.

"Nevertheless, this can be viewed as a natural consequence in the process of rebalancing, much like a pendulum swinging to the right while endeavoring to restore equilibrium that has shifted to the left," he said.

Cho also underscored the importance of coordination with the US, China, Russia and Japan in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. He noted that the current security landscape and international relations have become more challenging compared to four years ago when he served as the Korean ambassador to the UN from 2016 to 2019.

During that period, there was a level of international cooperation with China and Russia supporting sanctions resolutions on North Korea and jointly condemning North Korea.

But the deepening US-China strategic competition as well as the conflict between the US and Russia that has been structurally intensified after the war in Ukraine make it challenging to anticipate the adoption of a new UN Security Council resolution on North Korea.

“Consequently, the overall diplomatic environment addressing the North Korean nuclear issue has significantly deteriorated. Pursuing denuclearization or restoring dialogue is extremely difficult in the current circumstances," he said.

"Recognizing the grave reality, my primary focus will be on strengthening deterrence against North Korea, while making efforts to explore avenues for dialogue and negotiation with four neighboring countries."

Cho also said he will "strive to explore amicable solutions," when a reporter asked about compensation for Korean victims forced to work for Japanese companies during World War II.

The nominee expressed his commitment to seeking solutions by consistently considering the measures proposed by the Yoon government, which encompass a third-party reimbursement plan, the state of Korea-Japan bilateral ties, and addressing various concerns related to victims and their human rights issues.