“There are neither eternal friends nor eternal enemies in politics.” Perhaps nothing exemplifies this old saying better than the drastically changing relations between China, North Korea and South Korea in recent years.
Once regarding each other as “socialist brothers”, Beijing and Pyongyang have been increasingly drifting apart ever since Kim Jong-un succeeded his late father and took power in 2011.
In contrast, once arch enemies on the battlefield, China and South Korea have been coming closer and closer together in recent years.
Even though relations between Beijing and Seoul have undergone a brief period of turbulence following the latter’s decision to deploy the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system, it appears the two are back on good terms again after South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s state visit to China last week.
One of the major reasons why Beijing and Seoul are coming increasingly closer is simple: the two have found themselves sharing more and more common strategic interests in the face of North Korea’s nuclear aggression.
As far as Seoul is concerned, Pyongyang’s nuclear threat is a matter of life and death, and any outbreak of a full-scale war on the Korean peninsula will definitely spell Armageddon for the south.
And that explains why Seoul is so desperate to strengthen its ties with Beijing, which still retains substantial influence with Pyongyang despite their currently sour relations.
As to China, what it fears most is not only the radioactive fallout once a nuclear war breaks out on this doorstep, but also the possible influx of tens of millions of North Korean refugees.
Therefore, preventing war on the Korean peninsula is definitely in China’s best interests, and hence its eagerness to work closely with South Korea to defuse the current military standoff.
Meanwhile, the wavering position and unpredictability of the United States under President Donald Trump has also served as a catalyst for closer partnership between China and South Korea.
Simply put, Pyongyang’s escalating nuclear threat and Washington’s wavering stance are just drawing Beijing and Seoul closer and closer.
Closer ties between Beijing and Seoul are likely to have profound implications not only for relations among the US, China, North and South Korea, as well as Japan, but also for the overall strategic balance in the entire Northeast Asia in the long run.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 16
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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