China treads lightly around Kim-Putin summit during dialogue in Seoul

Posted on : 2024-06-20 17:26 KST Modified on : 2024-06-20 17:26 KST
A difference in tone could be read in the statements out of Seoul and Beijing following the “two-plus-two” diplomatic and security talks between the two sides
South Korean First Vice Minister Kim Hong-kyun (right) walks with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong on June 18, 2024, at the site of their banquet in Seoul during their diplomatic and security dialogue. (courtesy of the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
South Korean First Vice Minister Kim Hong-kyun (right) walks with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong on June 18, 2024, at the site of their banquet in Seoul during their diplomatic and security dialogue. (courtesy of the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

On the eve of Putin’s visit to North Korea, South Korea hosted a foreign policy and security dialogue with China in Seoul. During Tuesday’s dialogue, the South Korean delegation expressed concerns about Putin’s North Korea visit and requested that China play a “constructive role” regarding the emerging alliance between Moscow and Pyongyang. But the Chinese delegation maintained its distance on the issue. 

After the talks, a press release from Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs read: “China said it is our hope that North Korea-Russia exchange contributes to regional peace.” But the official press release from China’s Foreign Ministry only said that its delegation had characterized the high-level engagement between North Korea and Russia as “the bilateral arrangement between two sovereign countries.”

From the South Korean side, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hong-kyun and Lee Seung-buhm, the director general of the International Policy Bureau of the Ministry of National Defense, met with China’s Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong and Zhang Baoqun, the deputy director of the Office for International Military Cooperation of the Central Military Commission. After their discussion, they dined together at a banquet. The officials spent over six hours together. The main topic of discussion was Putin’s visit to North Korea. 

The South Korean delegation clarified its position that Putin’s visit to Pyongyang must not lead to increased illegal military cooperation between Russia and North Korea, which would compromise the stability of the Korean Peninsula. The South Korean delegation also stressed that increased military cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang would harm China’s interests, and that Beijing should play a constructive role in stabilizing inter-Korean relations and denuclearizing North Korea. 

According to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry, China responded by saying that its policy on the Korean Peninsula “remains unchanged,” and added, “China will play a constructive role in solving issues related to the Korean Peninsula.” 

The statement released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, however, took a different tone. 

“The Chinese side noted that the DPRK and Russia, as friendly and close neighbors, have the legitimate need for exchanges, cooperation and development of relations. Relevant high-level engagement is the bilateral arrangement between two sovereign countries,” the read the press release from the ministry.

“Holding the first 2+2 vice-ministerial level diplomatic and security dialogue between China and the ROK was agreed quite early on by the two sides in light of the need of growing bilateral relations and has no particular link to the engagement between other countries,” the statement continued. 

In short, China drew the line on commenting on the affairs of Russia and North Korea. Beijing appears to have carefully chosen its words to avoid appearing antagonistic toward the North Korea-Russia summit during its high-level exchange with South Korea.

By Park Min-hee, senior staff writer

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories