China Must Learn to Use Its Influence for Good

      November 16, 2022 13:31

      President Yoon Suk-yeol and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping met for the first time on Tuesday on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia. The last time the leaders of South Korea and China sat face-to-face was in December of 2019. But their summit lasted just 25 minutes, which is not enough to effectively discuss bilateral issues that have accumulated over the last three years.

      Yoon raised the issue of North Korea's escalating nuclear and missile threats. "North Korea has recently been resorting to an unprecedented level of provocations and heightening its nuclear and missile threats," Yoon told Xi. "We expect China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to play a more active and constructive role." Yoon was referring to China's blocking of additional UNSC sanction against the North.

      But Xi said China "hopes [South] Korea would actively improve relations with the North" to hint at disappointment at Yoon's North Korea policies. A Chinese Foreign Ministry statement after the summit did not even mention the North Korean nuclear threat at all. During a meeting with Xi a day earlier, U.S. President Joe Biden said Beijing has a "responsibility" to urge Pyongyang to halt its nuclear weapons tests. Xi responded by saying the U.S. and other countries must address North Korea's "rational concerns."

      South Korea has recently joined in a U.S.-led realignment of high-tech supply chains and trilateral cooperation with Washington and Tokyo, which are aimed at keeping China's rising global ambitions in check. Xi urged Yoon to "guarantee global supply chains and oppose turning economic cooperation into political and security issues."

      Xi appears intent on using South Korea as a pawn to advance his interests. The North Korean nuclear program is a direct threat to South Korea's very existence and casts a dark shadow over peace not only in Northeast Asia but around the world. North Korea violated UN resolutions dozens of times this year alone and is considering another nuclear test because it is confident that China will support it. China as North Korea's only ally and powerful benefactor cannot deny responsibility for the North's nuclear weapons development program. Seoul must strengthen security cooperation with the U.S. and Japan and keep pressing China to play a more responsible role. China could retaliate, but fear of such repercussions can play no part when it comes to protecting the lives of South Korean citizens.

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