Wang Yi (pictured), a Chinese state councilor overseeing foreign affairs cum foreign minister, announced an unusual diplomatic trip to Japan and South Korea on November 24-27. Minister Wang will visit Japan on November 24-25, then arrive in Seoul on the 25th and stay until the 27th. This will be his first trip to South Korea in almost a year since his last visit last December.
The Chinese foreign minister’s trip to South Korea and Japan is drawing attention because it comes at a very sensitive time. The Donald Trump administration, which had fiercely clashed with China on all issues including security and the economy, will step down and a new administration will enter office in the U.S. At such a time, Minister Wang will visit key U.S. allies in Asia. This is why experts believe the trip was planned with the Joe Biden administration’s policies on China in mind. The Biden administration will probably maintain the hardline stance on China, but unlike President Trump, who personally dealt with China one on one, Biden is expected to keep China in check through cooperation with U.S. allies. Therefore, China needs to seek cooperation with South Korea and Japan and also needs to hold back the two countries from engaging in an excessively close relationship with the new administration in Washington.
South Korea is also facing sensitive times in terms of diplomacy. A new administration will enter office in the U.S., which has the strongest influence on South Korea’s foreign relations, and Seoul also needs to stop Pyongyang from engaging in any provocations during this absence of dialogue. South Korea also needs a breakthrough in its relationship with Japan, which has cooled due to the compensation for forced labor and Japan’s controls on exports to South Korea. Minister Wang will visit South Korea at a crucial moment when a new diplomatic environment is about to settle in Northeast Asia.
Minister Wang is scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on November 26. The foreign ministry explained that the ministers “will discuss bilateral relations between South Korea and China, including cooperation in the fight against COVID-19 and exchanges among senior officials, as well as the situation on the Korean Peninsula, and regional and international issues.”
But during Wang’s visit, all eyes will be on the message China will have for South Korea aimed at the Biden administration.
A South Korean government official said, “China acknowledges that South Korea is a U.S. ally, so it will not ask South Korea to side with China,” and added, “We expect China to affirm that South Korea should not stand too close with the U.S. and cause any damage to China’s key interests in its conflict with the U.S.” Minister Wang is likely to visit Cheongwadae and meet President Moon Jae-in and officials in the National Security Office. In this meeting, he is expected to deliver in detail the position of the Chinese government.
Interest is also on what Wang will say about North Korea. China needs the Korean Peninsula to remain stable, too, so experts believe China will work to control the North Korean issue while a new administration enters office in Washington.
Discussions on a trip to South Korea by Chinese President Xi Jinping are also a topic of interest. The situation is not encouraging for President Xi to travel, due to the domestic situation in China and the resurge of COVID-19, but since plans for the trip have already been mentioned, officials are likely to discuss the specific time and conditions. If President Xi visits South Korea, China will need certain outcomes, so Minister Wang is likely to confirm what South Korea can guarantee in terms of the conflict between the U.S. and China as well as bilateral issues between South Korea and China when President Xi visits South Korea.