South Korea Moves to Improve Relations with Mainland China in a Bid to Cool Tensions on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea Is Seeking Better Diplomatic Ties with China. in Addition, Seoul Wants China's Help in Joining the UN

By Clayton Jones, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 8, 1991 | Go to article overview

South Korea Moves to Improve Relations with Mainland China in a Bid to Cool Tensions on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea Is Seeking Better Diplomatic Ties with China. in Addition, Seoul Wants China's Help in Joining the UN


Clayton Jones, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


IF an Oscar were awarded for diplomatic acting, South Korea might walk away with it.

In a feat of purposeful make-believe, South Korea is appearing to have already renewed diplomatic ties with China, the last close ally of North Korea, even though reality is otherwise.

One by one since 1987, South Korea has won Communist countries' recognition, in a bid to outmaneuver North Korea. China is the last and biggest trophy.

And this year is a final test. Victory might help South Korea's strategy to ease the tense stalemate on the Korean Peninsula, the hottest cold-war remnant.

In January, China allowed South Korea to open a trade office in Beijing. South Korea sent a high-level diplomat, Roh Jae Won, who speaks as much about diplomacy as business. He issues visas and enjoys diplomatic immunity.

The trade-office opening prompted South Korean President Roh Tae Woo to predict that formal relations would be established by the end of the year. His critics accused him of "over-eagerness."

About 20 South Korean businessmen began a tour of China on May 8 to find a site for an industrial park just for Korean companies. They go even though their investments would not be guaranteed.

At the end of the month, South Korea will play host to a huge trade fair for about 100 Chinese companies that will display products from noodles to computers. In June, a second ferry will ply the waters between China and South Korea.

Since South Korea sent 5,000 athletes and visitors to Beijing last year for the Asian Games (along with lots of money and communications technology), Korean restaurants have opened in the Chinese capital and Korean vehicles sent for the games are now common on Chinese streets. South Korean companies advertise their names and wares on the Chinese highway as if no political estrangement existed between the two nations.

"This is all to give the impression that China already accepts South Korea," says Lee Hong Pyo, China specialist at the International Private Economic Council of Korea.

"No matter where you go in Beijing, you can find the essence of South Korea."

Seoul officials say that a little diplomatic pretense can influence a debate in Beijing over how much to recognize South Korea at the expense of North Korea. Many Chinese trade officials and others have already been won over, they add.

"China is on the fence," says Kim Kyung Won, a former South Korean ambassador to Washington and the United Nations.

The prime targets are the hard-liners and old-timers in China's communist hierarchy who cling with loyalty to their longtime fellow revolutionary, Kim Il Sung of North Korea.

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South Korea Moves to Improve Relations with Mainland China in a Bid to Cool Tensions on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea Is Seeking Better Diplomatic Ties with China. in Addition, Seoul Wants China's Help in Joining the UN
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