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Signs of a thaw

Oct 28,2017
The freeze between Seoul and Beijing over the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system may finally be thawing. A vice-ministerial level Chinese official attended an event commemorating National Foundation Day at the Korean Embassy in Beijing.

Last year, Beijing sent a director-general-level apparatchick to the same event. Signs of thawing in the bilateral relationship were evident in other places as well. Seoul and Beijing on Oct. 13 agreed to extend a currency swap agreement. The defense ministers of the two countries met on Tuesday on the sidelines of an Asean Plus defense chief meeting in the Philippines.

On the same day, a Chinese travel agency posted an ad for a package tour to South Korea, suggesting Beijing may have eased a ban imposed since the beginning of the year on group tours to Korea. Seoul also is poised to deliver a go-ahead to a new LG Display investment in China.

Beijing has begun to soften on Seoul after President Xi Jinping officially entered his second five-year term after the endorsement of the 19th Communist Party National Congress that ended on Tuesday. The row over Thaad had been a lose-lose situation for both countries.

Sen. Cory Gardner, who chairs the U.S. Senate subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific, estimated that the economic toll on South Korea from China’s retaliations for Thaad could reach $12 billion. The Bank of Korea projected the loss would cut Korea’s economic growth this year by 0.4 percentage points.

The measures were face-losing for Beijing. It came under fire for being narrow-minded and arrogant for punishing Korea.

President Moon Jae-in hopes to visit Beijing within the year and invite Xi to the opening of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February. Both would have to set the grounds to normalize the relationship. Beijing would have to show actions on its claim that it never retaliated over Thaad.

Seoul in return must convince Beijing that the antimissile system is purely meant to deter the North Korean threat and won’t be used to spy on China. The two must explore a new path to mutual respect and prosperity.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 28, Page 30