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Leaders mark 30th anniversary of Korea-China ties despite challenges

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Foreign Minister Park Jin, center left, Chinese Ambassador to Korea Xing Haiming, center right, and other dignitaries cut a cake at the official ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and China at the Four Seasons Hotel in central Seoul Wednesday evening. A similar event was held simultaneously in Beijing. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

The leaders of South Korea and China exchanged congratulatory letters on the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations Wednesday, both sides calling for deepening of ties despite steep diplomatic challenges.
 
President Yoon Suk-yeol said in a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping that he hopes that the two countries would “seek a new direction of cooperation for the next 30 years based on the spirit of mutual respect and reciprocity,” according to the presidential office.  
 
In his letter to Yoon, Xi said he hoped to “build a fruitful friendship with the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties as a new starting point,” said the presidential office.  

Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Jin attended a reception arranged by the Chinese Embassy at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seoul at 7 p.m.  

Wang Yi, Chinese state councilor and foreign minister, attended a reception hosted by the Korean Embassy at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. That is where the two countries first forged diplomatic relations in 1992.  

In his congratulatory message, delivered by Park, Yoon said he hopes to promote high-level exchanges and “achieve concrete results tangible to the people” in fields such as supply chains, economic security, the environment and climate change.  

He added that he looked forward to meeting Xi in person to discuss the development of Korea-China relations over the next 30 years.

He also expressed hope for “a constructive role for China in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.”

Xi likewise conveyed his wishes to forge a “solid friendship” with Korea through Wang at the Beijing reception. Chinese Ambassador to Seoul Xing Haiming delivered Xi’s message at the Seoul reception.  

Xi noted that Korea and China have maintained friendly exchanges for a long time as neighboring countries and “developed relations in all directions, upholding openness and inclusiveness through a mutually beneficial cooperation.”

Xi stressed that it is important for the international community, including South Korea and China, “to unite and cooperate at a critical time” amid the Covid-19 pandemic and other major upheavals.  

The parallel events in Seoul and Beijing were attended by diplomats, government officials and businesspeople.  

The two countries established diplomatic ties on Aug. 24, 1992, putting behind animosities from the 1950-53 Korean War and Cold War.  

Since then, China has become Korea’s largest trade partner and the two countries enjoyed a flourishing of exchanges in the past three decades. However Seoul often found itself in an awkward position trying to maintain a balance amid the growing military and technological rivalry between Beijing and Washington.  

Currently, the two countries face sensitive issues resulting from rising Sino-U.S. competition, including fallout over the deployment of the American-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system in 2017 and consideration of a so-called Chip 4 alliance with the United States to cooperate on semiconductor supply chains, which would also include Japan and Taiwan.

Seoul has maintained that cooperation on semiconductor supplies is not meant to exclude any specific nation. However, Korea might find it more difficult to remain neutral amid the shifting world order and the Yoon government’s tilt toward the United States.  

On March 25, President-elect Yoon and Xi held their first phone call to discuss bilateral relations.  

Ahead of the anniversary, there was much speculation on the rank of the government officials that would attend each country’s event.  

In 2012, Xi Jinping — vice president at the time — made a surprise appearance at a reception to mark the 20th anniversary of Korea-China relations in Beijing, also attended by Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. 

At the time, the venue was changed from a hotel in downtown Beijing to the Great Hall of the People, an indication of the importance of the celebration. 

As Xi was poised to become China’s leader the following year, his appearance was a sign of the coming of age of bilateral ties and the weight Beijing put on the development of Sino-Korean relations. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi also attended the event.  

For the 25th anniversary in 2017, China sent Wan Gang, science and technology minister and vice chairman of a parliamentary advisory body, to attend a reception held by the South Korean Embassy in Beijing.  

Wan was vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, considered a vice premier-level position, higher than a minister.  

This came despite Seoul and Beijing being at the peak of a feud over the Thaad deployment, which resulted in retaliatory measures by China against Korean companies, tourism and entertainment figures.  

“As Korea-China relations have grown in scale over the past 30 years, we hold the view that they should develop into an even more mature and fruitful cooperative relationship in the next 30 years,” said Kim Eun-hye, senior presidential secretary for press affairs, in a press briefing Wednesday afternoon. 

“As President Yoon repeatedly emphasized, we will strive to deepen Korea-China cooperation based on the principle of mutual respect and reciprocity.”

Earlier Wednesday, the two countries also hosted a business forum to mark the 30th anniversary through video conferences in Seoul and Beijing. Korean Ambassador to Beijing Chung Jae-ho, Chinese Ambassador to Seoul Xing Haiming and businesspeople from both countries took part in the forum, with congratulatory remarks relayed by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.  

Later in the day, the Committee for Future-Oriented Development of Korea-China Relations released a joint report with policy proposals for the future direction of bilateral ties in various fields prepared by experts from both countries over the past year. The report will be submitted to both governments.  

Foreign Minister Park Jin, Chinese Ambassador to Korea Xing Haiming and other dignitaries pose for a commemorative photo to mark a meeting of the Committee for Future-Oriented Development of Korea-China Relations in Seoul as the two countries mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations Wednesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
Foreign Minister Park Jin, Chinese Ambassador to Korea Xing Haiming and other dignitaries pose for a commemorative photo to mark a meeting of the Committee for Future-Oriented Development of Korea-China Relations in Seoul as the two countries mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations Wednesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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