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Put yourself in China’s shoes

Apr 11,2017
Ambassador Wi’s piece “Advice for China,” which was published on the April 5 edition of the Korea JoongAng Daily, follows the same line of thinking from other South Korean journalists, analysts and commentators who have spoken vehemently against China after China initiated retaliatory measures against the deployment of U.S. missile defense system Thaad.

Unsurprisingly, there is nothing new in his piece and I seriously doubt Beijing would take any cues from his article, despite its title.
He started with making some ludicrous claims that he himself couldn’t be careless to back up. For example, “... We (South Korea) have been mostly considerate of China’s core interests. In fact, it is not easy to find another G-20 or OECD member that cares more about China’s core interests than South Korea.”

What core interests is he referring to? And exactly what did South Korea do to make Ambassador Wi proclaim that South Korea has been most considerate of China’s interests? By Park Geun-hye making an appearance next to Xi Jinping atop the Tiananmen Gate? While such a move might have provided some sentimental values to the Chinese leadership, there was nothing substantial behind it.

South Korea has no reason to “be considerate of” or “care about” China’s interests, especially since the two are technically strategic adversaries (South Korea is a staunch ally of the United States which sees China as a major threat and adversary), and the reality is South Korea has done only what’s best for South Korea (there is absolutely nothing wrong with it).

Therefore, Ambassador Wi’s nonsensical claim above is not convincing at all. Worse yet, it struck me as extremely childish.

The four points he laid out arguing that China has nothing to gain from retaliating against South Korea are not new, like I said before. His arguments share the same theme found in pieces from many other South Korean journalists and commentators, essentially boasting how sophisticated and mature South Korea has become vis-à-vis an explicitly rogue, unsophisticated and undemocratic China, to the point of sounding a bit condescending to my Chinese ears. Could it be that this sense of superiority of theirs is rather rooted in their collective inferiority complex?

His vantage point is entirely coming from South Korea’s angles and conveying South Korea’s perspectives. They are not untrue in that regard. But failing to see things in the other party’s shoes, Ambassador Wi kept rehashing the same talking points which have been repeated over and over and scolding China for what they consider an inconceivable and immoral act (retaliation against South Korea) without even trying to understand why China sees Thaad as a threat strategically.

In this sense, they are no better than those Chinese policymakers who they accuse of not appreciating South Korea’s vital need and interests of defending itself. In the end, none of Ambassador Wi’s “advice” will find any audience in Beijing, I am afraid.

I have been thinking a lot about China and South Korea in terms of who needs who lately. Obviously they both need each other right now. However, from China’s perspective, what exactly does South Korea offer? An export market? It is too small. A source of investment and technology transfer to China? Sure, it certainly has been the case for the last two decades or so, but that role is dwindling increasingly.

A strategic partner, a wedge in the American encircling of China? No way, since South Korea considers the U.S. its most important ally and the bedrock of the South Korean nation, it will remain a loyal American ally in the foreseeable future and will continue to align its national interests, especially its security interests to those of the United States.

So what was China calculating then? What was China trying to gain from wooing South Korea? Not much perhaps. While South Korea is using this opportunity to look for ways to diversify economically (and rightfully so), I think China should also think about diversifying and waning herself off of reliance on many South Korean parts and products.

The FTA signed between China and South Korea is benefitting South Korea lot more than China (I actually think it was conceived as a political gift to entice South Korea to pull away from the U.S. and toward China, but it failed miserably). That is not to say the two should cut off economic ties but I think both can gain from looking elsewhere and within (especially in China’s case).

*Chinese citizen in Beijing

Xiao Fan