|Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, will make an official visit to Korea from Wednesday to Friday. He is expected to meet Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, left, and President Moon Jae-in. Yonhap|
China to ensure relations through top diplomat's trips
By Yi Whan-woo
The planned visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Korea and Japan this week is fueling speculation that Beijing wants to ensure its relations with its two East Asian neighbors in the lead-up to the inauguration of the Joe Biden administration.
The U.S. president-elect hinted at restoring alliances with Korea and Japan, describing the East Asian nations with words such as "linchpin" and "cornerstone" ― throwbacks to the Barack Obama administration in which Biden was vice president.
The commitment to such alliances is needed for the policy characterized with a U.S. pivot or rebalance in the region, especially in consideration of its intensified row with China.
"And it appears China, through Wang's trip to Korea and Japan, wants to make sure U.S. influence in the region will not expand," said Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Korea National Diplomatic Academy (KNDA) professor echoed a similar view.
On the agenda to be discussed in Korea are Chinese President Xi Jinping's possible visit by the end of the year, joint responses to the COVID-19 crisis, high-level exchanges and security issues on the Korean Peninsula and in the Asia-Pacific region.
But, according to the KNDA professor, none of these issues fully explain the necessity of Wang visiting Korea at this late stage of the year.
"For instance, it is virtually impossible for Xi to travel to Seoul in the midst of the pandemic, especially considering we have just over one month remaining before the end of the year," he said. "Rather it makes sense to say China wants to hold the U.S. in check."
Asked about Beijing's objective in its relations with the two Asian neighbors, Shin speculated it wants to "draw Seoul closer to its side while keeping the status quo with Tokyo."
Seoul, because of its reconciliatory efforts with Pyongyang and expectations toward Beijing's role accordingly, is seen as the weakest of all among the U.S. allies in the region.
"This would make Korea China's target in its attempt to loosen the U.S alliance," Shin said. "Such an attempt would not work with Japan so China may have to settle for the present level of relations."
Wang will be in Tokyo from Tuesday to Wednesday, before coming to Seoul late Wednesday for a three-day official visit.
In Japan, Wang is expected to meet Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.
In Korea, he is likely to meet President Moon Jae-in and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.
Diplomatic sources said Wang has been enthusiastic toward the Korea trip, after it was postponed in October.
Wang and Kang last met in person in Seoul in December 2019. They have only talked online and over the phone since then.
Regarding security on the peninsula, some sources viewed Wang's trip will help curb Pyongyang's possible military provocations in response to the incoming Biden government.
Biden said he would not continue personal diplomacy with the North's leader Kim Jong-un and he would only meet with Kim if coupled with "an actual strategy that moves the ball forward on denuclearization."