Seoul-Beijing honeymoon unlikely to be lasting affair

Seoul-Beijing honeymoon unlikely to be lasting affair
China's Mr Xi agreed to a request by South Korea's Ms Park to speak on the phone about North Korea earlier this year.

Even as Sino-Japanese ties hit their worst in four decades, relations between Beijing and Seoul have never seemed warmer, which could sway the dynamics in the North-east Asian region, say analysts.

A firm piece of proof lies in news last week of a plan by the two sides to build a statue of a Korean activist who fought against Japanese colonial rule in the Chinese city of Harbin, a move that has irked Japan.

Seoul and Beijing both hold up Ahn Jung Geun as a hero for shooting dead Hirobumi Ito, the Japanese colonial governor of Korea, in Harbin in 1909. Korea was under Japanese rule from 1910 to 1945.

Seoul's response to China's controversial East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone, which overlaps with South Korea's airspace, has also been milder compared with that of Tokyo and Washington.

Observers also note how the Chinese media had given glowing coverage of South Korean President Park Geun Hye's visit to China in June, praising her command of the Chinese language and publishing her biography.

And Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to Ms Park's request to speak on the phone about North Korea earlier this year, amid provocative acts by the nuclear-armed country.

A phone chat was something their predecessors, Mr Hu Jintao and Mr Lee Myung Bak, have never done, noted Dr Sunny Lee, a former Beijing-based journalist and now a fellow at Stanford University. He wrote in a paper that such developments reflect a honeymoon phase in Chinese and South Korean ties.

He told The Straits Times the possible reasons.

China sees the Washington-Seoul-Tokyo alliance as a structure set up to contain its rise. "Naturally, China wants to break it, making a hole in the structure. China sees South Korea as fair game," he said.

On the other hand, South Korea thinks it has "a real chance of making Beijing closer to it than it is to Pyongyang" and thus influence China's policy over North Korea, he added.

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