New South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has picked veteran diplomats to help boost ties with three major regional and one global player – China, Japan, Russia and the United Nations.
Yun Duk-min, a former chief of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, was tapped for ambassador to Japan, while former presidential secretary for foreign affairs Chang Ho-jin was named ambassador to Russia.
Hwang Joon-kook, former ambassador to Britain, was named ambassador to the United Nations.
For China, Yoon has appointed Chung Jae-ho, 62, a professor of international relations and director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Seoul National University. Chung was nominated by South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol as the new ambassador to China on Tuesday.
This new envoy, who has a good grasp on Chinese language following periods of study and work in China, raised expectation for China-South Korea ties during his tenure.
Yoon naming Chung as the new ambassador to China shows how the new administration is attaching great importance to its relations with China, Chinese observers said.
But they also warned that challenges lie in South Korea’s internal politics and pressure from abroad, which sometimes would drive diplomats’ behavior.
According to South Korean media, Chung is an expert in China’s political economy who has studied US-China relations, receiving his Master’s degrees in Chinese history and Chinese politics from Brown University in the US. He received his doctorate in political science from the University of Michigan.
After serving as an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan in 1987, he served as a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and as a research fellow at the University of Hong Kong.
He served as the director of the Chinese Research Center and the director of the Institute of International Studies at Seoul National University. Chung and Yoon graduated from the same high school.
Lü Chao, an expert on the Korean peninsula issue at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told media on Tuesday that Chung is known as a scholar who has expertise in China affairs and international relations and he is expected to serve for the China-South Korea relation affairs with more rational and independent thinking.
The observer expressed his hopes for the new envoy to know more about the real China and real Chinese public during his tenure, to avoid being deceived by malicious and groundless smears against China, and to make the real China known to more people in South Korea and the rest of the world.
Lü said that Yoon had made tough remarks toward China during the election campaign which has sparked public worries not only among Chinese observers but also in business communities in South Korea.
South Korea should know managing its relations with China well is beneficial not only to its economy but also to its political and diplomatic affairs in the international community, Lü stressed.
But now, pressure from the US has ramped up significantly, and Japan has shown a willingness to lead the way for NATO in the Asia-Pacific region, which greatly compresses South Korea’s strategic space. Washington wants to turn South Korea into a pawn in its Indo-Pacific Strategy, and this will become the biggest variable affecting South Korea’s relations with China, observers warned.
As long as South Korea adheres to its independent path and proceeds from the fundamental interests of its own people, a solution will be found, they said.
Despite some misunderstandings and frictions, China and South Korea can develop their bilateral ties in 2022, the year marking the 30th anniversary of the China-South Korea diplomatic relations, Chinese observers believe.
On May 9, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan arrived in Seoul to attend the inauguration ceremony of Yoon, which experts said showed sincerity in furthering ties and cooperating with South Korea to cope with challenges in regional stability and prosperity amid the US Indo-Pacific strategy push.
Noting that this year marks the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations, and of the China-South Korea Year Cultural Exchanges, Wang said that the two countries have maintained close high-level exchanges, deepened practical cooperation and maintained smooth multilateral communication and coordination.
Yoon said South Korea is willing to increase high-level exchanges, enhance cooperation of different areas, and push bilateral relations into a new chapter.
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