|Joo Jae-woo, Professor of International Politics, Kyung Hee University/Director, China Research Center, Korea National Strategy Institute|
Until last week (November 11-17), many world leaders had a busy week in East Asia. Starting with the 25th ASEAN + 3 Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on November 12, the 17th East Asia Summit (EAS) was held at the same place the next day. Then, on November 15, the G20 summit was held in Bali, Indonesia. On the 17th, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference (APEC) was held in Bangkok, Thailand. President Yoon Seok-yeol attended all meetings except for the double APEC meeting.
Despite President Yoon’s first meeting with ASEAN heads of state, it did not attract attention. But it wasn’t just our situation. The ASEAN+3 Summit and the many sideline meetings during the meeting did not attract attention from all the media around the world. This is because the leaders of the United States and China were involved, and bilateral or small meetings with them received more attention. So we did. In particular, it was confirmed that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) attended a summit abroad for the second time after the corona pandemic.
President Xi Jinping had his first outing in September since the coronavirus crisis began in December 2019. It was a trip to Central Asia for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit. And two months later, he had the opportunity to meet the Western leader at this G20 summit. And since this was his second trip abroad, and also his first meeting with a Western leader, the world’s attention was naturally focused on his meeting as he held a number of informal conversations. In particular, it was true that the world had no choice but to focus on the first face-to-face meeting with President Xi after the election of President Joe Biden.
As President Yoon held a meeting with President Xi Jinping (on the 15th) after his inauguration and the first time for a Korean president in three years, the news of his meeting with an ASEAN leader was buried natural. At the same time, the Korea-Japan summit held on the 13th also did not receive as much attention as expected. The series of talks between the leaders of Korea, the United States and Japan, held on the same day, also contributed to this result. After all, in a way, the press paid attention to the conversations in the same order as our interests. Korea-China, Korea-US, Korea-US-Japan, and Korea-Japan were in order.
The informal talks held by President Yoon before and after the G20 Summit yielded encouraging results. At the Korea-US summit held on the 13th, they reaffirmed their will to continue discussions on strengthening extended deterrence and the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). An even greater achievement is opening our way to the South Pacific. The United States, together with major Oceanian countries such as Australia and New Zealand, as well as Japan and the United Kingdom, launched the Pacific Islands Cooperation Initiative last June. In response, President Yoon informed the United States of our decision to participate. This gave us the opportunity to coordinate cooperation among countries with similar positions in relation to Pacific Island States, share best practices, and discover collaborative projects. In other words, it has achieved results in expanding the space for activities as well as a foothold for our diplomacy in the South Pacific and Oceania regions.
President Yoon Seok-yeol speaks with US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the Korea-US-Japan summit held at a hotel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on the 13th (local time). (Photo = copyright holder (c) Yonhap News, unauthorized reproduction-redistribution prohibited)
The Korea-US-Japan talks held on the same day issued a joint statement for the first time. After taking office, President Yoon attended the first Korea-US-Japan meeting at the NATO summit in June, and made a joint statement at the second meeting he attended. Drawing up a joint statement suggests that the three countries share the same perception and point of view on the issues at hand, and share a clear will and strong determination to solve the problem. Therefore, it is a step towards further strengthening the trilateral cooperation between Korea, the United States and Japan.
A notable fact in this joint statement is the expression of opposition to the military dictatorship in Myanmar. It was a piece that confirmed the shared value of the three countries in defending democracy and opposing its damage. Second, they confirmed their willingness to cooperate for the development and development, stability and prosperity of the Mekong sub-region. As this requires solving the regional water resource distribution problem as a prerequisite, attention is paid to the direction of cooperation between the three countries. Finally, by announcing the decision to participate in the Pacific Islands Cooperation Initiative as ‘Partners in the Blue Pacific’ at the meeting, he succeeded in laying the foundation for cooperative relations between the three countries in the region.
The Korea-China summit held on the 15th was quite meaningful as it was an opportunity to explore opportunities to improve bilateral relations, which had been strained due to the pandemic and other issues. This was not just the situation in our country. Until now, most G20 countries have had difficulties in dialogue, communication and cooperation with China for reasons similar to ours.
China also decided to participate face to face in the G20, realizing the seriousness of the problem. In particular, China, which is highly dependent on foreign countries, seems to have a desperate feeling that it must overcome the result of the global economic recession caused by the pandemic together. This was revealed piecemeal in the agenda of the meeting that President Xi organized during the meeting. He held talks with the leaders of seven countries, including Korea, just on the day the official schedule of the G20 summit ended. His informal conversations continued the next day. Therefore, China had no choice but to limit the duration of the talks to about 30 minutes each. The time of the meeting was not important to Xi. As revealed in the content of the meeting, he needed a breakthrough to resume cooperation with foreign countries.
Looking at the published results of the talks reveals one thing in common. This gave an insight into President Xi’s purpose of the meeting. It is true that most of the discussions, with the exception of the United States, have not mentioned factors that hinder relations with the target country so far. According to data provided by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during the meeting with President Yoon, there was no comment suggesting the issue of THAAD in the past, that is, ‘great interest for both countries’. If this is true, it is proof that China’s sense of urgency can be sensed to some extent. Instead, the emphasis on communication and collaboration was an encouraging result for us.
This is because there are many pending issues between Korea and China that need to be resolved. The first installment of the ROK-China diplomatic and security strategic dialogue (2+2), which was agreed to be upgraded to the sub-ministerial level in 2021, has come to light. Free trade agreement (FTA) phase 2 negotiations, which had been suspended in the meantime, can also be expected to resume. Moreover, when China proposed the Strategic Dialogue 1.5 between the two countries, including private experts, the strategic dialogue and cooperation in the private sector, which had been difficult in the past, was opened. I hope it will be an opportunity to look forward to the development of Korea-China relations in the future.