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For common interest


China and the ROK should resort to consultation and coordination to maintain their supply chains and regional stability

After the end of the Cold War, China and the Republic of Korea seized the opportunity and quickly normalized relations with forward-looking thinking in big-picture terms. In the 30 years since the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties, the relationship between China and the ROK has achieved rapid and comprehensive development.

Bilateral economic and trade relations have developed rapidly across the board. Today, China is the ROK's largest trading partner, and the ROK is China's third-largest trading partner. Through investment, production, trade and services, the two countries have formed deep-rooted economic links and development interactions. The two countries have complementary advantages in production, technology and markets, greatly expanding the space for the development of bilateral economic and trade relations. The signing of the free trade agreement between China and the ROK provided a good rules-based environment for the deepening economic relations. The two sides have thus signed a good deal of cooperation agreements in investment, finance, new energy, telecommunications, transportation and technology development, establishing a supply chain system with multi-field and multilevel cooperation.

In terms of political relations, based on consensus, mutual benefit and mutual trust, the two countries have actively promoted the development and improvement of bilateral relations, from a cooperative partnership and then comprehensive cooperative partnership, to strategic cooperative partnership, steadily deepening their cooperation. The establishment of the strategic partnership between the two countries is indeed a breakthrough development. Although China and the ROK have different political systems, the two sides have launched a high-level strategic dialogue, diplomatic and security dialogue, political party dialogue and other mechanisms under the strategic partnership to conduct exchanges and consultations on bilateral, regional and world affairs. Faced with the complex situation on the Korean Peninsula, and in Northeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, the two countries have insisted on communication and consultation to try and find a solution. Of course, due to the differences in the security interests of the two countries, conflicts will also arise. For example, the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense in the ROK caused tension between the two countries. But in general, the political relations between the two countries have maintained overall stability and cooperation.

In social and cultural aspects, personnel exchanges between the two countries have grown substantially. Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were more than 10 million visits between the two countries every year, with a peak of more than 13 million visits a year. Tourists from both sides regard each other as the most important place to visit. The number of Chinese tourists traveling to the ROK has increased year by year, reaching more than 8 million at the peak prior to the pandemic. What is particularly important is that the number of students studying in each other's country has increased significantly, and both countries have become each other's largest group of students studying abroad. The substantial increase in personnel exchanges has helped the people of both countries understand each other. In particular, a large number of international students will lay the foundation for the long-term development of the two countries in the future.

How to plan and create the future is a common issue for China and the ROK.Building a future-oriented China-ROK relationship faces some challenges and difficulties.

It is necessary to develop competitive cooperation based on the horizontal division of labor. In the field of advanced technology, especially in the fields of semiconductors, communications and digital economy, the two sides should make full use of the advantages of the two countries, and work together to build a new foundation for common development. However, achieving this will not be easy. For example, the ROK is increasingly worried about China and is wary of developing close economic and technological cooperation with China. In particular, the United States is intensifying its comprehensive strategic competition with China and vigorously promoting the reconstruction of supply chains and the forming of semiconductor alliances and technology alliances targeting China. As an ally of the US, and also based on its own interests, the ROK will be likely to participate in these endeavors. Yet deepening economic relations is in the real and long-term interests of both sides. Whether it is disintegration or partial decoupling, it will cause serious damage to the ROK and weaken the basis for the development of cooperation between the two countries. Therefore, it is necessary to take practical and effective cooperative measures to maintain the stable operation of the intersecting supply chains. Recently, the foreign ministers of the two countries met and made it clear that it is very important to maintain the stability of supply chains.

The most important meaning of the strategic partnership is cooperation. The two countries share a common interest in maintaining the stability of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. Given that the issues of strategy, security and interstate relations on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia have complex causes, there is no simple or once-and-for-all solution. Although the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the ROK have made a lot of progress in developing relations, the DPRK's nuclear weapons and the ROK's changing policies toward the DPRK by alternating ruling parties make the situation on the peninsula full of variables. Under the circumstance that the US implements comprehensive strategic competition with China, the ROK's participation in the US' strategic arrangements narrows its strategic choices, and it becomes more difficult to choose between strengthening the US-ROK alliance and maintaining the stability of China-ROK relations. The new ROK government emphasizes mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit between China and the ROK. Indeed, paying attention to and accommodating the important interests and appeals of the other party, and resolving differences through consultation and coordination to avoid the intensification of conflicts are the basis for building a strategic partnership. There are multiple and sensitive economic, political, security and social issues between China and the ROK.The key is to communicate and negotiate based on mutual trust.

It is crucial to strengthen ideological and cultural exchanges between China and the ROK, and deepen the understanding between the two peoples. A worrying trend is the sharp decline in the level of awareness and understanding between the two countries for a number of reasons. In the era of online media, the orientation of public opinion changes greatly, quickly, and sometimes unmanageably. The reasons behind it are complicated. Under the new situation, the two countries need to seek new ways of cooperation to give full play to the positive role of online media in enhancing social understanding and recognition of the two countries. Strengthening educational exchanges and cooperation is future-oriented, we should build a sustainable educational cooperation between the two countries, establish cooperative education funds, promote the co-construction of courses among universities, and jointly cultivate higher talents. More effective work needs to be done.

The author is a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and dean of the Institute of International Studies of Shandong University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn