South Korean duty-free shop owners and Chinese Kpop fans can finally breathe a sigh of relief because relations between Seoul and Beijing are at last on the mend.
The two countries have reportedly decided to put aside their differences over the deployment of the US-backed THAAD missile defense system which led to a year-long standoff that wreaked havoc on South Korean businesses. Faced with a nuclear-obsessed neighbor, Seoul saw the system as necessary to its own survival. Meanwhile, Beijing viewed it as a threat to China’s national security, vowing to take “countermeasures” as Seoul refused to reconsider.
Over the past year, Chinese tour groups have been banned from South Korea, devasting the country’s tourism industry, which heavily relies on high-spending Chinese tourists. At the same time, South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group, which handed over land for THAAD’s construction, became the target of Chinese nationalists, hackers and state media with many of its locations in China shut down by the government amid popular boycotts.
Even South Korean golfers and Kpop idols were not safe from the THAAD backlash. By March, South Koreans hated China even more than they hated Japan.
But that’s all in the past now.
“Both sides shared the view that the strengthening of exchange and cooperation between Korea and China serves their common interests and agreed to expeditiously bring exchange and cooperation in all areas back on a normal development track,” South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement earlier today.
To help seal the deal, South Korean President Moon Jae-in is set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam on November 10th to 11th.
China’s foreign ministry was quick to note at a press briefing earlier today that China’s position on THAAD had not changed, but acknowledged that South Korea had recognized China’s concerns over the anti-missile system’s deployment and had made it clear that the system was not aimed at harming China’s strategic security interests.
The unexpected detente comes just after China’s Golden Week travel extravaganza when Chinese media gleefully published pictures of empty South Korean malls and duty-free shops and just before US President Donald Trump’s first trip to Asia with stops in South Korea and China.
At both locations, talk is likely to center around North Korea’s continued nuclear ambitions which threaten to destabilize the region and the world. Though we imagine both countries will also be ready with more history lessons for the American president.
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