China, South Korea mark 25th anniversary of diplomatic ties

Diplomats and scholars from China and South Korea gathered in Beijing on Thursday to attend a commemorative event to mark the 25th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between the two countries.

South Korea's ambassador for public diplomacy, Park En-na, hailed the achievements the two countries have made in politics, economy, culture and people-to-people exchange.

It's a moment of celebration, but former South Korean ambassador Shin Jung-seung expressed his worry about the current state of the bilateral relations. He said that the bilateral relations have been strained as a result of the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-ballistic missile system.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in, vowing concerted efforts to address their differences, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported on Thursday.

Xi also noted that the two nations had together made positive contributions to regional peace and development, the report said, without elaborating.

Moon also sent a message to Xi, expressing the hope that the two countries will have more "substantial" and cooperative ties in the future, the South Korean foreign ministry said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meanwhile told his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha that the two nations should work together to tackle the root causes of North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The anniversary comes at a tense time for the two countries after Seoul agreed to deploy the THAAD.

South Korea says that the technology is needed to protect against the threat of missile strikes from North Korea, but China argues the system poses a threat to its own security.

The row prompted China to stop tour groups going to South Korea in March, while Chinese boycotted stores owned by South Korean firm Lotte after it was revealed that it had allowed the missile shield to be installed on its land.

"Since China and South Korea established diplomatic relations, with understanding and respect, the two countries' relationship has been progressing, which has brought benefits to the people of the two countries and made contributions to regional stability," Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a press briefing on Wednesday.

"China values the development of Sino-South Korean relations and wants to take the opportunity of the 25th anniversary to review and conclude the experience and lessons of the past 25 years with South Korea to remember the beginning of ties, consolidate trust and solve divergences properly," Hua said.

Park, South Korea's ambassador for public diplomacy, said that Moon proposed a three-way dialogue including the United States, but Beijing had not responded.

"The reason to deploy THAAD is the nuclear weapons and missiles of North Korea. But China and South Korea failed to launch a communication mechanism, and dialogue between the two sides has been difficult," Park said on Thursday. "The more we have disputes, the more communications are needed."

Qu Huan, head of the China-Republic of Korea Friendship Association, said that Sino-South Korean relations have been jittery recently, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Wednesday. "However, the strictness in political trust calls for openness in communication among people," she said.

"China and South Korea are encountering political and economic difficulties, so now, enhancing the understanding of each other's culture and deepening trust between the peoples are particularly important," Qu said.

Low-key celebrations

Given the strained ties, celebrations to mark the anniversary were low-key compared to five years ago.

Chen Zhu – vice-chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, China's legislature – was the highest-level official at a reception held at the Grand Hyatt in Beijing on Wednesday night, according to Xinhua.

The Chinese delegation at a separate reception in the capital hosted by the South Korean embassy on Thursday night, meanwhile, included science and technology minister Wan Gang – who is also vice-chairman of political advisory body the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference – as well as Kong Xuanyou, China's new special envoy for Korean peninsula affairs, and Wang Yajun, an assistant minister of Communist Party's International Department of the Central Committee.

In Seoul, South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong attended a function held by the Chinese embassy on Thursday night.

It was a different story five years ago, when the 20th anniversary was marked at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing with a guest list that included the then vice-president, Xi, and former foreign minister Yang Jiechi.

Beijing was hopeful that Moon would reverse the decision on THAAD made by his predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who was removed from office over a corruption scandal in March. But Moon, who is an advocate of dialogue with the North, said that more THAAD launchers were needed in the wake of the latest intercontinental ballistic missile tests by Pyongyang in July.

"The swing in Moon's attitude over THAAD has concerned China," according to Yu Hongjun, former deputy minister of the party's International Department of the Central Committee.

Young connections

"I spent half of my life in China studying and working, and I feel half-Chinese," Cho Su-jin, a South Korean graduate of the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Wednesday. Cho lived in China for a decade and now works in Seoul in the apparel industry.

"China and South Korea are greatly connected economically and culturally, but since last year the THAAD issue has brought some problems to the political relationship, and it's also affected my work," Cho said.

"But I believe the relationship between China and South Korea will get on a firmer footing," she said.

"Most Koreans are very friendly, hospitable and polite. It was comfortable to live in South Korea," Dong Jun, a 26-year-old Chinese resident who lived in Jeonju, South Korea, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Dong is now working in the South Korean cosmetics trade in East China's Shandong Province. "Many young Chinese people like the selection and quality of South Korean cosmetics," she said.

"Older generations might still be influenced by cold war thoughts, but youngsters from China and South Korea are a new force that promotes Sino-South Korean relations through communication," Zheng Jiyong, director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University, said.

"They can be a bridge to keeping the friendship stable and healthy in the future," he noted.

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