What has Moon Jae-in’s Visit to China Achieved?

As China-ROK relations develop quickly in the past 25 years, internal frictions and external obstructions are inevitable, but these can become opportunities to promote improved relations between the two countries if handled properly. 

By Li Jiacheng

25 years have passed since the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the Republic of Korea (ROK), and cooperation in various fields has made rapid progress. As relations develop quickly between the two countries, internal frictions and external obstructions are inevitable, but these can become opportunities to promote improved relations between the two countries if handled properly.

Moon Jae-in, the president of the ROK, ended his first visit to China on December 16. An official bilateral meeting between the heads of the two countries was held on December 14. In the meeting, consensus was reached on several issues, including building a community with a shared future between China and the ROK, to uphold the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula, north-east Asia, and the wider world.

Political Exchanges Call for Mutual Understanding

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) System issue has continued to simmer since it arose in the last days of Park Geun-hye’s government. The issue has done considerable damage to political trust between the two countries, formed by 25 years of diplomatic exchanges, and has affected present exchanges between the two countries.

Following detailed negotiations, the ROK proposed three commitments on the issue: it will not make any additional deployment of the THAAD system; it will not join the regional missile defense system operated by the US; it will not join the U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral military alliance. These commitments should ease the tension created by the THADD issue, and the relationship between China and ROK might take a more positive turn.

It can be seen from the meeting of the two heads that China and the ROK have put together a certain tacit strategic agreement. When referring to the sensitive issue of the THAAD system, President Xi Jinping substituted it with “a reason that is known to all” while President Moon Jae-in referred to it as “some difficulties”.

Xi reaffirmed China’s opposition to on the deployment of the THAAD system in the ROK and expressed his hope that the ROK will tackle the issue properly. On the subject, Moon expressed his respect for the strategic policies of both countries and emphasized that it is especially important to restore and develop relations between the two countries as quickly as possible.

Moon also made reference to the trilateral negotiation mechanism in various forms which will promote communication between China, the U.S., and the ROK, and which also provides a possible channel to de-escalate the potential security hazard of the THAAD system issue.

Against a backdrop of clamor over the risk of war on the Korean Peninsula, the heads of two countries reached a consensus on four principles to maintain peace and stability on the peninsula:

  • never allow any war or conflict on the Peninsula;
  • the denuclearization of the Peninsula should be firmly kept in mind;
  • the denuclearization and all other issues need to be resolved peacefully through dialogue and negotiation;
  • the improvement of inter-Korean relations will ultimately contribute to the peaceful settlement of the Peninsula issue.

China and ROK share a common position on maintaining stability and preventing war on the Korean Peninsula.

It was agreed to maintain close communication between the two leaders through a range of methods, including mutual national visits, multilateral heads meeting, phone and correspondence. Also, cooperation between the two countries, which previously focused on economic, trade, social, and cultural exchanges, will be expanded to include cooperation in foreign affairs and security, and between political parties.

In addition, the two leaders also agreed on strict implementation of the decisions made by the UN Security Council on issues concerning the DPRK, on urging the DPRK to curb its provocation, and on maintaining close communication to steer the DPRK towards dialogue.

Enhance and Expand Cooperation

Cooperation by means of the China-ROK Free Trade Agreement (FTA) has been limited to trade in goods since it took effect. However, the potentials in the bilateral trade cooperation in goods are limited. During the meeting, the leaders of the two countries decided to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to launch follow-up negotiations on opening services and investment for the China-ROK FTA.

In order to tackle the problem of the unbalanced development in investment, trade, and economy, the two leaders decided to revive several previously suspended cooperation projects, including the establishment of China-ROK industrial parks and the founding of the Investment and Cooperation Fund, so as to encourage mutual investment, and expand fields for economic cooperation.

In addition to economic and trade development, the two countries also have great potential for cooperation in other fields. After negotiations, the two parties have decided to work together on reducing PM10 emissions, and to promote cooperation in medical care, education, science, and new and renewable energies, as well as cooperation between local governments. In addition, the parties agreed to boost the 4th industrial revolution together.

In terms of environmental problems, which have aroused great attention in both countries, China and the ROK are working together to reduce smog.

At the same time, the heads of the two countries agreed that the New Southern Policy and New Northern Policy of the ROK share some common ideas with the Belt and Road Initiative, and have created a specific plan to align these policies.

A Rich Variety of Cultural Exchanges

To enhance mutual understanding and encourage emotional empathy between the peoples of China and the ROK, the two leaders decided to strengthen exchanges in culture and sports, and between youth and other people-to-people exchanges.

China and the ROK share a common history and experience of fighting against Japanese aggression, and fighting for national independence, hence we share feelings for each other.

Moon spoke highly of the assistance offered by China on preserving the historical sites of ROK independence movement, and extended the wish that China can continue to provide attention and support.

In returning the remains of troops from the People’s Volunteer Army as a humanitarian gesture, the ROK has helped to resolve a historic problem carried over from the Korean War, and enabled Chinese martyrs to come home. The Chinese people are truly grateful for this.

The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics of 2018 is around the corner, while China will host its Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022. The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics can be a great opportunity for the two countries to exchange experiences between the organizers of the two events, and in helping each other to ensure the success of their respective events.

Moon’s government has been a vigorous proponent of Olympic diplomacy, and has invited Xi to attend the opening ceremony of The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

The two leaders also agreed that the participation of the DPRK in the Pyeongchang Olympics will help to improve the relationship between the ROK and the DPRK, and will also help to alleviate tension in north-east Asia, hence both countries will strive together to make this a success.


Li Jiacheng, researcher of Transformation National Economic and Political Research Center of Liaoning University

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of China Matters