South Korea’s foreign ministry has summoned China’s ambassador to protest comments he made accusing Seoul of tilting towards the United States and away from China, as competition between Washington and Beijing for global influence intensifies.
South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Chang Ho-jin on Friday warned Chinese Ambassador Xing Haiming over his “senseless and provocative” remarks made during a meeting with a South Korean opposition leader a day earlier.
The ministry accused Xing of violating diplomatic protocols and interfering with South Korean domestic politics but did not specify the parts of Xing’s comments it saw as inappropriate. The ministry also did not share what Xing said in reply to Chang.
When asked about the criticism, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the current challenges in Chinese-South Korean relations are “not caused by China”.
“It is part of Ambassador Xing’s job to have extensive engagement with the ROK [South Korean] government, political parties and people from all walks of life, exchange views on bilateral relations and issues of mutual interest and share China’s position and concerns,” he said at a regular news briefing in Beijing.
In a meeting Thursday with South Korean Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung, a key rival of conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol, Xing accused Yoon’s government of leaning excessively towards Seoul’s treaty ally, the United States, and damaging its relations with China, its biggest trading partner.
Xing said South Korea was entirely to blame for the “many difficulties” in bilateral relations, citing its growing trade deficit with China which he attributed to “de-Chinaisation” efforts, apparently referring to actions by South Korean companies to shift their supply chains away from China.
He demanded that Seoul respect Beijing’s core interests including Taiwan – which China claims as its own territory – and other major regional issues.
“With the United States pressuring China with all its might, some are betting that the United States will win and China will lose. But this is clearly the wrong judgement,” Xing said, describing a rosy future for his country under leader Xi Jinping. “What can be said with certainty is that those who bet on China’s defeat will surely regret it later,” Xing said.
South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Xing’s “irresponsible” comments countered “the desire of both countries’ governments and people to value and further advance South Korea-China relations based on mutual respect”.
Xing also brought up economic ties and said South Korea’s trade deficits had worsened because of its efforts to “decouple” from China, but it could “enjoy the bonus” from Chinese economic growth if its confidence in bilateral ties are restored.
“The two countries have built an inextricable economic structure in which their industrial and supply chains are closely connected,” he said.
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South Korea, whose economy depends greatly on exports of computer memory chips and other technology products, has struggled to strike a balance between the United States, its decades-long military ally, and China, the biggest buyer of its goods as the rivalry between Washington and Beijing deepens over regional influence and technology.
Faced with a growing nuclear threat from North Korea, Yoon has pushed aggressively to strengthen the alliance with the US, making it a central goal of his policies.
Seoul has expanded joint military training with the US and has been seeking stronger assurances that it would swiftly and decisively use its nuclear weapons to defend South Korea in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack.
The Biden administration, in turn, has been seeking stronger three-way cooperation with South Korea and Japan to counter both the North Korean threat and China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy.