Author: Yang Sheng

Posted on: Global Times, January 5th , 2017

A delegation of lawmakers from South Korea’s biggest opposition party arrived in Beijing on Wednesday amid tension over bilateral relations resulting from a planned anti-missile system that China sees as a threat.

The seven lawmakers, all from the Minjoo Party, also met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on the first day of their three-day trip.

Wang said during his meeting with the delegation that China-South Korea relations should be cherished, news site reported.

The trip is aimed at mending ties with China which have cooled since President Park Geun-hye’s administration reached an agreement with the US in 2016 to deploy the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system on the peninsula, the Yonhap News Agency reported Wednesday. Though South Korea and the US maintain that THAAD is for military defense against North Korean threats, it would also undermine China’s and Russia’s military deterrence.

China will listen to these lawmakers, but the key to fixing bilateral relations must come from the South Korean side, Chinese experts said.

On the first day of the visit, Yonhap reported that «lawmakers, including former Incheon Mayor Song Young-gil, are set to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and attend a dinner hosted by his ministry.»

According to a report by Russia-based Sputnik news organization on Monday, the delegates said Minjoo leader, Moon Jae-in, who is also in the running for the next presidential election, would be in the delegation to Beijing. However, Moon did not show up with the delegation.

«As the party leader and a potential presidential candidate, Moon is not likely to visit any country before the election, because this will make him look like a puppet,» Wang Junsheng, a researcher on East Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday. Wang will meet with the lawmakers on Thursday in Beijing.

However, the Minjoo lawmakers have faced strong criticism from conservatives in South Korea, including the ruling Saenuri Party and offshoot New Conservative Party for Reform which condemned the visit, calling the move a form of «kowtowing,»  Yonhap reported.

«Although Moon is not in the delegation, these delegates also represent a positive power in South Korea and they can deliver the message effectively, that’s why they can meet with the foreign minister,» Wang said.

According to a report by the South China Morning Post, delegate Song Young-gil said «We will tell Beijing that our presidential candidates including Moon are calling for the THAAD issue to be reconsidered in the next government.»

Separate issues

The delegation complained about China’s «restrictions» on trade, travel and cultural exchanges with South Korea and said they were visiting Beijing to convince China to separate the THAAD dispute from bilateral cooperation.

China has never acknowledged the existence of such restrictions. Foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said on November 21 that «I have never heard of any restriction on South Korea.» «The Chinese side’s steadfast opposition to the deployment of THAAD by the US in South Korea is well known to all. The Chinese public has voiced their dissatisfaction as well. Relevant parties must have taken note of that,» Geng added.

Lü Chao, a research fellow at the Institute of China’s Borderland History and Geography Studies of the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that «the feeling of ‘restriction’ that South Korea has is real but it is not government-led; it’s Chinese people’s spontaneous behavior.»

«So South Korea cannot expect us to cancel the restrictions which have never existed,» Lü said «but we have also pointed out the way-out to fix the problem, that is the cancelation of THAAD.»

Wang noted that as Minjoo is not the ruling party of South Korea, China will not expect them to promise anything, and the main task of the trip is to deepen mutual understanding and communication because the Minjoo may win the presidential election with Moon becoming president.

«The ruling Saenuri Party is very obstinate on THAAD, and it’s possible it might try to push the deployment to bring THAAD to South Korea before the presidential election,» Wang said.



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