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K-pop set for return to China as tensions ease

Sanctions enforced over Thaad dispute may be lifted soon
Dec 26,2019
Signs grew Wednesday that Beijing would ease its ban on Korean pop culture imports to China, following the latest summit between President Moon Jae-in and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Global Times, an English-language newspaper run by the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily, issued a report on Wednesday to discuss the growing possibility of a lifting of the sanctions, which were put in place in retaliation to Seoul’s decision to allow U.S. deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system in Korea.

According to the article, published on page 3 and titled “Warming China-South Korea ties bring market hopes to K-pop stars,” Chinese fans increasingly anticipate K-pop stars will perform concerts and take part in activities in China as bilateral ties are improving.

“Leaders of the two countries met on Monday in Beijing and stressed deepening ties and forging a strategic cooperative partnership,” it continued. “Analysts believe such top-level communication implies that the two countries continue to walk out of the shadows following the Thaad dispute.”

Bilateral relations between Korea and China quickly froze after Seoul approved Washington’s plan in July 2016 to install the Thaad system. “According to South Korean media, since then, K-pop idols have not been able to perform in any gathering that exceeds 10,000 people in the Chinese mainland,” the Global Times reported.

Wednesday’s report was a rare expression of anticipation by Chinese state-run media for the lift of the K-pop ban. The report said some Chinese entertainment media outlets predict that TV dramas starring Korean actors are likely to be released in 2020 in China.

The Global Times report followed Moon’s summit with Xi in Beijing on Monday. During the meeting, Xi again pressured Moon to remove the Thaad system. During their meeting, Xi said the Thaad issue must be resolved appropriately, and Moon replied that his government’s position remains unchanged. When Moon met with Xi in June, he told the Chinese leader that the Thaad issue would be resolved only after a progress in denuclearization.

In the face of China’s fierce protests, Korea has agreed that it won’t consider additional Thaad deployment; it won’t join the U.S.-led missile defense regime and it won’t form a trilateral military alliance with Japan and the United States. Despite such promises from Korea, China has maintained its retaliatory measures.

While China announced its decision to lift an 18-year-old ban on Japanese beef imports in time for Xi’s summit with Abe on Monday, no announcement was made on the K-pop ban. During their bilateral summit on Monday, Moon expressed his hope that bilateral cooperation will expand in various areas including cultural exchanges, but Xi conspicuously made no mention of the issue.

The Global Times report on Wednesday, however, prompted expectations that China would gradually ease the ban ahead of Xi’s anticipated visit to Korea in spring next year. During their summit, Moon extended an invitation to Xi to visit Korea at the earliest date next year.

Meanwhile, Moon secured China’s support for his East Asia railway community project during his visit to China. Ahead of the Korea-China-Japan summit on Tuesday, Moon met with another Chinese leader, Premier Li Keqiang, and discussed bilateral cooperation.

During the summit in Chengdu on Monday evening, Li responded that China is willing to participate in Moon’s vision to create a regional railway community.

According to presidential spokesperson Ko Min-jung, Moon told Li during their meeting that linking the severed inter-Korean railways and roads will complete a Eurasian logistics network connecting the Korean Peninsula, China and Europe. “It will serve as a basis to develop a multilateral peace and security regime,” Moon was quoted as telling Li, reminding that a 10,000-kilometer (6,200-mile) high-speed railway is already connecting Chengdu and Europe.

It is the first time that China officially responded to Moon’s railway project. The response also came as China and Russia are seeking to lift some United Nations sanctions on North Korea. Exempting inter-Korean railway and road projects from the sanctions list was also pushed forward by the two countries.

“China values its relations with Korea with importance,” Li told Moon. “Although bilateral cooperation had faced some turmoil in the past, it is now on the right track.”

Meanwhile, Seoul and Beijing offered contradictory descriptions about Moon’s stance on the sensitive issues concerning China’s brutal crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong and ethnic Muslims in Xinjiang, China. Shortly after the presidential summit on Monday, China’s CCTV and People’s Daily reported that Moon, a former human rights lawyer, had told Xi that “affairs relating to Hong Kong and Xinjiang are China’s internal affairs.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang also confirmed it on Monday. “This is the statement by President Moon Jae-in, which in my view captures the facts,” Geng said. “He just stated a plain fact, that is, Hong Kong affairs and Xinjiang affairs are both China’s internal affairs, right?”

The Blue House, however, denied the account. “Xi explained to Moon that Hong Kong and Xinjiang issues are matters of China’s internal affairs,” a presidential official on Monday. “And Moon just responded that he heard Xi’s remarks.”

China’s Foreign Ministry, however, dismissed the Blue House’s denial on Tuesday. “The [Chinese] press release is a thorough description of the meeting. I suggest you read it again,” Geng said Tuesday.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]