Exchanging favours . . .
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is visiting South Korea today, where he is meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Chung Eui-yong. Wang is reportedly seeking Seoul’s reassurances that President Moon Jae-in will attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games, which will take place in Beijing in February. For its part, South Korea is hoping China can help bring North Korea back to the negotiating table, something President Moon is eager to see happen in his final year in office. Over the weekend, Pyongyang test-fired a long-range cruise missile.
Rising antipathy . . .
Wang’s visit takes place as Korean public opinion about China hits all-time lows. A survey this year showed China as the country most disliked by Koreans. The unfavourability is especially pronounced among younger Koreans, who have less respect than older Koreans for Chinese culture and more disdain for its authoritarian political system. The mutual China-South Korea antipathy regularly plays itself out through popular culture. The most recent example is the public outrage that reached a boiling point last week after the release in Korea of The Sacrifice – a Chinese-made Korean War film that allegedly “beautified” the killing of South Korean soldiers. In response, officials in South Korea withdrew the film from domestic circulation.
Keep your friends close . . .
The wider geopolitical context surrounding Wang’s visit is the Biden Administration’s efforts to shore up the U.S.-South Korea relationship, which took a heavy beating under Biden’s predecessor. While President Moon’s inclination is to strike a working balance between the U.S. and China, he may find himself hemmed in by public sentiment: according to a 2021 Pew survey, 75 per cent of Koreans say they want a closer relationship with Washington, with only 17 per cent wanting to cozy up to Beijing. The candidate who succeeds Moon in the March 2022 election will surely have the pulse of voters over the China issue, but will need to tread carefully as China is by far South Korea’s largest trading partner.
- The Diplomat: The politics of South Korea’s ‘China threat’
- Nikkei Asia: South Koreans sour on China ahead of Wang Yi visit
- South China Morning Post: Young South Koreans turn on China as Hong Kong, coronavirus weigh on minds