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South Korea moves to boost ties with China in wake of North Korea attacks

South Korea announced that it is boosting funds related to initiatives with China. The move comes after North Korea's attack on an island last month.

By Nissa RheeCorrespondent / December 16, 2010

South Korean Christians with national flags participate in a special service denouncing North Korea's Nov. 23 bombardment on the Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea, Thursday, Dec. 16.

Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo


Seoul, South Korea

Seoul is pressing once again to bolster its relationship with China after North Korea’s attack on a small South Korean island in the Yellow Sea last month, in what appears to be a retreat from its defense-heavy approach.

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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has announced that it is increasing its annual China-related budget next year to 3 billion won ($2.6 million), a nearly eight-fold increase from this year's 390 million won ($340,000). The government is hoping that the increase will send a clear message to China that after a period of tense relations – which included a series of naval drills that irked Beijing – it is ready to talk.

The new budget will cover task forces that tackle anti-Korean sentiment in China and a new China Center that will bring together academics and politicians to craft stronger diplomatic policies. Additionally, a bilateral strategic dialogue between the two nations will advance from the vice-ministerial to the ministerial level.

"For our country, relations with China have been taking an increasingly important place in security and stability on the Korean Peninsula and our prosperity," Yonhap News Agency quoted Seoul’s foreign minister, Kim Sung-hwan, as saying at the opening of the China Center yesterday. "Close cooperation between the two countries is essential on issues related to North Korea and nuclear and other North Korea issues."

President Lee first worked to improve ties with China in 2008 when he met with China’s President Hu Jintao and declared a “cooperative strategic partnership” between the two countries. Korea's influence with China has suffered in the past two years, however, as the Lee administration prioritized strong ties with the United States over its Asian neighbor. Lee’s move away from the so-called “Sunshine Policy” of his predecessors, which favored engagement and the giving of aid to North Korea, also strained relations.

South Koreans learned just how tenuous this partnership was after the recent provocations from the North.

“With that naming of the new relationship, people in South Korea believed that China would be more forthcoming and assertive in reining in North Korea, particularly with respect to the North’s nuclear program,” says Chung Chong-Wook, who served as South Korea’s ambassador to China between 1996 and 1998. “But when the Cheonan incident happened [the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in March, which the South attributed to North Korea], China’s attitude was far contrary to the public’s expectation in South Korea. China embraced North Korea all the way, and that was quite a shock to South Korea.”


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