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
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. …