In a sign that China and South Korea are moving closer together, possibly at North Korea’s expense, Beijing and Seoul have said they are close to a free-trade deal and issued a joint statement that they firmly oppose nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.
The announcement on Thursday comes amid North Korean missile tests and a visit to South Korea by Chinese leader Xi Jinping that carries with it an implied snub to Pyongyang: It’s his first visit to the Korean Peninsula and the first that a Chinese head of state has stopped in the South before visiting the North.
What’s more, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who succeeded his father in 2011, is still waiting for an invitation to Beijing, while South Korean President Park Geun-hye already visited China last year.
Historically, Beijing has been North Korea’s one and only ally in the region, but while China looks unlikely to abandon Kim, it has made its dissatisfaction with the regime increasingly apparent.
At the same time, trade between China and South Korea, which normalized their relations more than two decades ago, is now 40 times greater than Sino-North Korean trade.
The Guardian says that Xi’s latest visit to Seoul “is a powerful expression of his displeasure with North Korea’s direction under Kim Jong-un, but despite Beijing’s symbolic chastening of Pyongyang and stories that China has cut its export of oil to North Korea, China still places maintenance of North Korea’s stability as a top priority.”
“South Korea and Beijing differ on how to stop the North’s nuclear programme. Seoul would like Beijing to do more to pressure Pyongyang, but Beijing has prioritised stability and encouraged all parties to return to talks without pre-conditions.
“Despite their long-standing differences, Mr Xi and Ms Park do appear to be forming a close relationship — announcing new maritime boundary negotiations, a direct currency exchange, and regional economic cooperation, says the BBC’s Lucy Williamson.
“Mr Xi was accompanied by 250 business executives including Jack Ma, the founder of the Alibaba e-commerce firm, and Robin Li, chairman of search engine Baidu.
“The is the fifth summit between the two since both took office.”