Cheong Wa Dae said Sunday that President Moon Jae-in's latest visit to China was a "success" and Seoul "consolidated" its security interests. The presidential office also patted itself on the back that China's unofficial boycott over the U.S.' deployment of a THAAD anti-missile battery in Korea has now been resolved.
It also took credit for getting China to agree to four principles, three of which China has in fact been touting for the last 24 years -- a refusal to tolerate war on the Korean Peninsula, a call for a nuclear-free peninsula and the pursuit of peace through dialogue. The only new principle calls for improved inter-Korean ties to help resolve tensions.
The first principle seems obvious, but in effect it amounts to demanding that the U.S. abandon its military options. China and Russia are now refusing to put more pressure on North Korea, so if the U.S. abandons its military options at this point, the North knows that it has nothing more to fear. There is no way it will abandon its nuclear weapons and missiles under those circumstances.
Military options are not intended to actually provoke a war but to pressure the North back to return to the negotiating table and convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons. It is common knowledge that diplomacy must be backed by a strong military fallback. From Beijing's perspective, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula means that even if North Korea completes its nuclear weapons, South Korea cannot have any of its own. No matter what terms Moon agreed with China, that is unacceptable.
In a speech at Peking University on Friday, Moon referred to China as a "comrade" that endured hardships together with South Korea. But the China that fought against Japanese colonialism is also the ally of North Korea that fought against South Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War and killed many South Korean soldiers. Of course the past cannot overshadow the present forever, but it cannot simply be whitewashed either.
Cheong Wa Dae said Saturday that it received a pledge from China to look into the assault of South Korean photojournalists by Chinese bodyguards. But China's state media reported Saturday that the assault involved the Korean organizers of the event and added that Beijing has no need to apologize.
China may have very little press freedom, but it was unprecedented to see foreign journalists being assaulted. If China was serious about rolling out the red carpet for Moon, such assaults would not have happened, whoever nominally paid these thugs that were under the control of Chinese police. Cheong Wa Dae insisted Sunday that the president did not suffer diplomatic humiliation in China. That is a matter of opinion.
Moon's visit did ease the THAAD row to some extent and paved the way for a resolution to the Chinese boycott. But at what price? The U.S. and Japan have become more suspicious about South Korea's ties to China, yet Seoul also failed to gain China's full trust. This is the easiest route to being completely sidelined.
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