February 02, 2021

What South Korea and China Do Together on North Korea Depends on Biden

By Jason Bartlett

During the first phone exchange between Beijing and Seoul in eight months, Chinese president Xi Jinping issued multiple diplomatic signals to the new Biden administration, suggesting China’s vision for the Korean Peninsula and its goals for the future of Sino-South Korean relations. Although President Xi reportedly stated that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a mutual interest for both Beijing and Seoul, there is reasonable concern that his perception of denuclearization mirrors that of North Korea’s national initiative: a peninsula void of U.S. military and security presence.

As Beijing will pounce on any signs of wavering U.S. leadership or support, it is imperative for the Biden administration to quickly resume its leadership role in Asia through multilateral engagement.

The continued presence of U.S. troops, frequent joint military exercises, and the U.S. deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile battery system in South Korea has led to a barrage of Chinese economic coercive measures, such as business closures and travel bans, against Seoul. Despite diplomatic threats of “destroying” the Sino-South Korean relationship and subsequently damaging the South Korean economy, Beijing failed to bully Seoul into abandoning the deployment of THAAD and ultimately led to a 19 percent decrease in South Korean public support for strengthening ties with China. Moreover, the discord between the people of China and South Korea continued to grow as more than half a million South Koreans signed a petition calling for a ban on Chinese visitors due to the coronavirus outbreak, and Chinese state media openly criticized world-famous K-pop group BTS for commemorating the American and Korean lives lost during the Korean War with no mention of China. While President Xi and President Moon spoke of promoting “high-level exchanges” between their countries, it is unlikely that the majority of the Chinese and South Korean public will embrace each other with similar vigor.

Read the full article from The National Interest.

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