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ASIANPERSPECTIVE, Vol. 32, No. 2, 2008, pp. 173-183. Commentary KOREA S NEW ADMINISTRATION AND CHALLENGES FOR CHINA'S RELATIONS WITH THE KOREAN PENINSULA* Ren Xiao In a region as fluid and complex as Northeast Asia, Lee Myung-bak's election to the presidency of the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea) will prove to be quite significant. The return of a conservative leader is an important change for Korean politics, and a new factor for regional relationships as well. Dur­ ing the previous two administrations of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, ROK relations with China kept growing rapidly. Both these presidents adopted a "sunshine" policy of reconcilia­ tion, cooperation, and peace toward the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea), especially against the backdrop of the reemerging Korean nuclear crisis. Chinese and South Korean policies largely converged on engaging with Pyongyang and inducing it to denuclearize and to open up. That approach to a great extent helped soften the Bush administra­ tion's hard-line stance and hostile policy toward the DPRK. Except for the (unnecessary) controversy over the Koguryo issue, a question of ancient history, that somehow disrupted the ChinaROK relationship during 2004-2005, other aspects of the relation­ * An earlier version of this commentary was presented at the international conference, "The New South Korean Administration's East Asia Policy and the Korean Peninsula," which was jointly organized by The NEAR Founda­ tion and the U.S.-Korea Institute at the School of Advanced International Studies, The Johns Hopkins University, Seoul, February 13, 2008. 174 Ren Xiao ship mostly went very well. With a new Lee administration, will that trend continue? Will Seoul and Beijing continue to work together well to denuclearize the Korean peninsula? The Bilateral Tango China is, relatively speaking, unfamiliar with the entrepre­ neur-turned politician, Lee Myung-bak, who is a former CEO of Hyundai Construction and Engineering and a former mayor of Seoul. For China, what is at stake is a smooth transition of rela­ tions with the ROK under a new Korean administration, with the maintenance of continuity and stability. In mid-January 2008, Bei­ jing dispatched Wang Yi, the number-two person in its foreign ministry, to Seoul in the capacity of special envoy of the Chinese government to meet with President-elect Lee and his presidential transition team. The chief purpose of Wang's trip was to become familiar with Lee and his policy thinking as well as to make preparations for a good post-Roh bilateral relationship. Wang Yi passed on President Hu Jintao's congratulations and greetings to Lee. Likewise, President-elect Lee sent his spe­ cial envoy, former chairwoman of the Grand National Party Park Geun-hye, to Beijing. She carried a letter from Lee to Hu. The Chinese side received her well and President Hu met her in person. The visits were in hope of paving the way for an orderly transition of the China-ROK relationship. China and South Korea are two countries that are becoming increasingly interdependent. This complex interdependence has developed over the past sixteen years since the formal establish­ ment of diplomatic relations in 1992, years that witnessed con­ spicuous growth in every aspect of their relations. In 2004, China overtook the United States and Japan and became the ROK's largest trading partner, while the ROK became China's thirdbiggest trading partner. According to South Korean government statistics, in 2006 the two-way trade volume exceeded $134 bil­ lion, a tremendous growth from $6.3 billion in 1992. In contrast, ROK trade with Japan and the United States was $78.5 billion and $76.8 billion respectively in 2006. Meanwhile, there are approximately 30,000 Korean compa­ nies that have invested in China. Their total investment reached Korea's New Administration and Challenges for China's Relations 175 $35 billion in April 2007. The two governments have set an objec­ tive for bilateral trade to reach $200 billion by 2012T Presently, each week there are approximately 800 flights between six South Korean cities and thirty Chinese cities. All these developments show that the relationship has reached such a degree that nei­ ther side can afford...


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