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A perilous duet

Dec 18,2017
A summit meeting is the pinnacle of diplomacy, arranged through prior coordination. It is said that there is no failure in summit meetings. And diplomacy is all about detail. The choice of dates, scheduling, movements, protocols and expressions contain messages. China’s diplomacy is crafty, learning from the success and failure of dynasties for millennia.

The crafty Chinese diplomacy unfolded in the U.S.-China summit in Beijing last month. Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump competed in details. The first meeting was at the Treasure Terrace, the only Western structure in the Forbidden City. It was a message on the harmony between Eastern and Western leaders. The video containing the two leaders’ movements in the Forbidden City was aired live on CCTV. At the Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Central Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony, Xi mentioned peace and “descendants of the dragon.” It was a remark aimed at Trump and 1.3 billion Chinese people. Trump struck back with the video of his granddaughter singing in Mandarin. The movements after the Forbidden City banquet are still concealed. The next day, Trump was presented with $253.5 billion worth of MOUs and a banquet attended by 12 former and incumbent Politburo members. After all the hospitality, Xi will continue to bill Trump.

President Moon Jae-in returned home after his schedule in Chongqing. His first state visit to China was a wreck. From the arrival on the Nanjing Massacre anniversary, to no joint statement, to the injuries of two Korean journalists, Moon worked hard to turn the tide, but naïve working-level officials should be held accountable.

The Thaad controversy was handled without much trouble. Korea had little expectation after Xi threatened Korea in November to make policy that can endure the test of history. The pressure on North Korea and economic retaliatory measures for Thaad were skipped. China still holds high cards in North Korea and Thaad. It is a message that China will continue its “tit-for-tat” diplomacy.

As it was at a critical time, more meticulous preparation was necessary. When the Thaad deployment was determined, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticized it in a strong manner. But Moon this time too did not have any means to defend the decision. Chinese media said Moon earned the criticism.

We need to play by the rules for a sly move. We cannot hope for luck. At the concert on Dec. 14, I sat behind the presidents and first ladies of Korea and China. When a famous Korean soprano and Chinese tenor finished a duet, Xi clapped the loudest. I only hope that the ovation signals a new journey in the Korea-China relationship.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 16, Page 30

*The author is a Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.