During his first visit to China, which started on Monday and will last three days, South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin will be trying to carry out the mission bestowed upon him by the government of President Yoon Suk-yeol, which is to reassure Beijing about the Chinese-South Korean relationship despite stronger ties with the US and tensions over Taiwan.
FM Park is to be based in the eastern port city of Qingdao throughout his three-day visit. On his agenda are talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Mr Park is the first high-level official to travel to China since Yoon took office in May.
The trip comes following Beijing’s wrath over US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last week. China’s ire is because the country claims the self-governed island as its own territory and does not recognise its independence. A visit by the third most important US dignitary is thus, in Beijing’s eyes, an instance of “gatecrashing”.
South Korean President Yoon received a dose of criticism from lawmakers, including some from his ruling party, for not meeting with Ms Pelosi during her Asian tour. Instead, President Yoon, who was on vacation, resorted to calling her. National interests were to dictate such a decision, according to his office that added there was no pressure from Beijing.
FM Park’s visit comes at a momentous time when Seoul straddles the fence trying to balance between the US and China – its top trade partner. Mr Park felt the trip would be a chance to minimise misunderstandings and improve cooperation in areas including trade, health and the environment.
“By actively promoting strategic high-level communication, we can have better understanding of each other, reduce unnecessary misunderstanding and expand common interests,” he said at a news conference.
The South Korean FM stressed that when he met Chinese FM Wang Yi at the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting last month in Thailand, he said South Korea’s reinforcing US alliance and participation in a US-backed economic forum for Asia, which Beijing said was designed to decouple countries from its economy, was not meant to “neglect or set aside” China ties.
But both sides may face a potential fallout over the THAAD US missile defence system stationed in South Korea, not to forget Seoul’s possible participation in a US-led chip alliance involving Taiwan and Japan, which China opposes.
China’s discontent grew when South Korean President Yoon ditched his predecessor’s promise made in 2017 to China not to deploy additional THAADs, not to participate in a US-led global missile shield and not to create a trilateral military alliance involving Japan – the so-called “Three Nos”.
Another Beijing argument is that the THAAD’s powerful radar could look through into its airspace.
Chinese foreign ministry has been calling for Seoul to make good on the promise, but FM Park told a recent parliamentary questioning that the “Three Nos” were not an official pledge or agreement.
Meanwhile, as reported by the Yonhap news agency on Monday, South Korea has decided to attend a preliminary meeting for the chip pact, dubbed “Chip 4,” citing an unnamed senior presidential official. This move was put by President Yoon in terms of “national interests, whereas the South Korean foreign ministry said no decision has been made.
The failure to abide by the “Three Nos” resulted in China sharply cutting trade and cultural imports, which weakened Seoul’s ties with Beijing.
In light of the recent strengthening of pro-US policies, China could request South Korea to take sides in a more definite way.
China to continue military drills around Taiwan
A day after the scheduled conclusion of its largest ever exercises carried out to protest against last week’s visit of Ms Pelosi to Taipei, China’s military announced, on Monday, that new military drills in the seas and airspace would take place around Taiwan.
Footage of the live-fire military drills around the #Taiwan island conducted by the #PLA Eastern Theatre Command has been released. Let's take a look! pic.twitter.com/LhpbKcb9LX
— Chinese Embassy in Tanzania (@ChineseEmbTZ) August 5, 2022
Now, according to China’s Eastern Theatre Command, the drills would focus on anti-submarine and sea assault operations.
The announcement bolstered the concerns of some security analysts and diplomats that Beijing would continue exerting pressure on Taipei and its defences. Given Taiwan’s sealocked location, protracted Chinese sea and air military drills are very likely to continue disrupting maritime and aerial connections, if not rendering them out-and-out impossible. This in turn would translate into a hard embargo on Taiwan and cutting it from supply lines.
The four earlier days of the Chinese military exercise included its units firing 11 short-range ballistic missiles, as well as warships, fighter jets and drones manoeuvring extensively around the island. On Sunday, shortly before the drills were wrapped up, some 10 warships from China and Taiwan each manoeuvred at close quarters around the unofficial median line of the Taiwan Strait, as reported by a person familiar with the situation who is involved with security planning.
For its part, Taiwan’s defence ministry said Chinese military ships, aircraft, and drones had simulated attacks on the island and its navy. It said it had sent aircraft and ships to react “appropriately”.
China’s defence ministry meanwhile maintained its diplomatic pressure on the United States, defending its shelving of military-to-military talks in protest at Pelosi’s visit.
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