President Park Geun-hye met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague on Sunday. After arriving in The Hague, Park headed straight to the hotel where Xi is staying, and the two leaders discussed the North Korean nuclear standoff and Korean reunification.
Xi told Park, "There are differences between Beijing and Pyongyang over the nuclear issue, but China is trying to persuade the North" to give up its nuclear program "in the Chinese way. We will lead the North in the direction that the international community wants it to go."
It is rare for a Chinese leader to make such an open admission that Beijing intends to "lead the North" in the right direction and shows what huge strides Seoul and Beijing have made in their relations.
Park told Xi about a presidential committee that will be launched soon to prepare for reunification. "A unified Korea would be nuclear-free and become a symbol of peace," she said. "It would also offer a chance for all regional people to enjoy peace and prosperity by creating a new growth engine in Northeast Asia."
Xi voiced support for "independent, peaceful" reunification. This was another rarity, since Beijing long considered the subject taboo for fear of angering its ally.
The "independent, peaceful" reunification Xi mentioned appears to envisage U.S. troop withdrawal from South Korea. That prospect is something that will eventually come up, but right now it is more important for the leaders of South Korea and China to build trust so they can cooperate in the process of Korean reunification.
New channels of communication between Seoul and Beijing have been pledged at previous summits, but many of them have been left closed. The two sides must ensure that they enlarge the scope of understanding to realize their shared strategic goals.