June 25, 2024

A version of this article has also been published by The Korea Times in partnership with the South China Morning Post.

Premier Li Qiang would attend trilateral talks with South Korea and Japan at the end of the month, according to a source with connections to top Chinese officials.

But separate bilateral discussions between China and South Korea during the summit hinge on whether Seoul would honour its commitment not to send a delegation to Monday’s inauguration of Taiwan’s incoming president, Lai Ching-te, said Woo Su-keun, chairman of the Seoul-based Korea-China Global Association.

“If, on May 20, China rests assured after seeing that Korea does not send envoys to Taiwan to attend the inauguration ceremony of the new president as they had indicated, China would give a nod to a separate bilateral summit,” said Woo.

China’s foreign ministry have not yet released any details of the meeting, but South Korea’s Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul and Chinese counterpart Wang Yi agreed on Monday in Beijing that the two countries would work together to ensure the success of the summit, according to a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul.

In other words, the current state of Sino-Korean relations hinges entirely on Korea’s initiatives

Woo Su-keun, Korea-China Global Association

Woo said the terms were discussed during private talks with high-ranking Chinese officials from the General Office of the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council last month.

“In other words, the current state of Sino-Korean relations hinges entirely on Korea’s initiative,” Woo added.

An exact date for the summit has yet to be disclosed, but media reports have said the talks could take place on May 26 and 27.

President Yoon Suk-yeol has already agreed that South Korea would not dispatch a delegation to next week’s inauguration, with only representatives from the Korean Mission in Taipei set to participate, Woo said.

Lawmakers from the National Assembly may choose to attend, which is beyond the control of the president, Woo added.


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The current relationship between China and South Korea is at one of its lowest points since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1992, largely due to Yoon’s efforts to expand security and economic ties with the United States, as well as initiatives aimed at diversifying the Korean economy away from China.

And although this summit is unlikely to yield major tangible results, and consensus would be hard to reach given the varying situations of the three countries, the contact is critical for Chinese leaders to test the waters, Woo said.

“China is keen to gauge whether Seoul is willing to reorient its pro-US foreign policy stance, and if the general attitude and atmosphere was amicable, this summit could herald more favourable policies as well as people-to-people and cultural exchanges, closer economic ties and eventually an improved bilateral relationship,” added Woo, who is a long-time adviser to Chinese policymakers.

He is also the president of the Korea-China Friendship Federation, which includes Korean companies and institutions with engagements in China.

China’s then-premier Li Keqiang, Japan’s then-prime minister Shinzo Abe and South Korea’s then-president Moon Jae-in ahead of the 8th trilateral leaders’ meeting in Chengdu in December 2019. Photo: Reuters

The trilateral summit has been suspended since December 2019 when then-Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, then-Korean President Moon Jae-in and then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met in the Chinese city of Chengdu.

Seoul’s remarks about the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea have also angered Beijing, which accused South Korea of meddling in its domestic affairs.

Yoon is eager to bring about some positive changes to South Korea’s relationship with China after opposition parties romped to victory in elections for the National Assembly last month and discontent on other issues is on the rise.

Woo urged Korea to have a more balanced stance, rather than being too dependent on Washington, while maintaining better relations with China, considering that it is still South Korea’s largest trading partner.

Economically, souring relations between China and South Korea would also diminish opportunities for South Korean companies to enter the Chinese market, he added.


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