China calls for stable ties with South Korea despite 'difficulties'

China calls for stable ties with South Korea despite 'difficulties'
South Korea's Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Tae-yul looks on during an Australia and South Korea Foreign and Defence Ministers' meeting in Melbourne, Australia, May 1, 2024.
PHOTO: Reuters file

BEIJING/SEOUL — China and South Korea should seek stable ties despite their recent "difficulties", Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his South Korean counterpart on Monday (May 13) at a rare meeting in Beijing held amid tensions over Taiwan and other regional issues.

South Korea's Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul said the countries needed to keep up momentum on co-operation and carefully manage ties, in a meeting that Cho's ministry said lasted for four hours.

Cho arrived in Beijing on Monday, his first trip to China since taking office in January, and the first visit to Beijing by a South Korean foreign minister in more than six years.

Relations between Beijing and Seoul came under new stress when South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said last year that democratically governed Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory, was a "global issue", not just an issue between China and Taiwan.

Yoon added last year that the increased tensions around Taiwan were due to attempts to change the status quo by force, and he opposed such a change. China protested, saying the comments were "erroneous" and "totally unacceptable".

The Taiwan issue surfaced again in March when the island participated in a US-backed democracy summit in Seoul. Beijing accused Seoul at the time of providing a platform for "Taiwan independence forces".

On Monday, Wang told Cho that China-South Korea relations had "faced difficulties and challenges, which are not in the common interest of both parties and not what China wants to see," according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.

"It is hoped that South Korea will abide by the one-China principle, properly and prudently handle Taiwan-related issues, and consolidate the political foundation of bilateral relations," Wang added.

South Korea's foreign ministry did not mention Wang's Taiwan comment in its own statement.

Trilateral summit

Cho told Wang their countries should work together and "even if there are difficulties, momentum of co-operation should be continued while carefully managing the relations," according to the South Korean foreign ministry.

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He added that they could continue to prepare for a summit of the leaders of China, South Korea and Japan in Seoul, planned for the end of May. The leaders of the three countries last met in China in 2019.

The Chinese statement made no mention of the summit.

Cho also called on China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, to play a constructive role for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, according to Cho's ministry.

Cho also asked for China's co-operation so North Korean defectors in China could go to their desired destinations without being forcibly repatriated to North Korea by Beijing.

China has long denied that there are any defectors from North Korea, which counts on Beijing as an ally, and says it follows the law when dealing people who enter its territory illegally.

Economic ties

Wang and Cho agreed, according to their ministries, that the economic ties of the two countries had been a force in each other's development, and agreed to strengthen their co-operation, including the ensuring of stable supply chains.

Ahead of his talks with Wang, however, Cho had said that once mutually beneficial economic ties were seeing intensifying rivalry, and vowed support for businessmen seeking to harness market opportunities in China while minimising any accompanying risks.

On his part, Wang said he hoped China and South Korea could work together to promote stable relations and "eliminate interference", which he did not elaborate.

Chinese state media have reported that the differences between Beijing and Seoul were due to Yoon's leaning towards the United States, amid intensifying Sino-US rivalry.

Yoon has also been vocal about the tensions between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea.

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