by Kwon Ki-sik
As recorded in The Analects of Confucius, “At thirty, I planted my feet firm upon the ground.” Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between South Korea and China. The past 30 years have witnessed leapfrog development of bilateral exchanges in politics, economy, culture and other fields, although there have been some setbacks.
Looking into the future, South Korea and China need to promote bilateral relations towards a more mature and stable direction, and people-to-people exchanges, particularly between the youths, are expected to play an indispensable role in bolstering bilateral exchanges.
South Korea and China are neighbours with a long history of friendly exchanges. Over the past 30 years, exchanges and cooperation in various fields have deepened, with two-way trade hitting new records, and the annual mutual visits above 10 million before the pandemic.
Nowadays, you can find Chinese street food in Daelim-dong, a district in western Seoul, where young people eat skewers of meat and drink Tsingtao beer. Meanwhile, in the far away Korean restaurants in the Wangjing area in east Beijing, young Chinese people also enjoy Korean barbecue bulgogi and alcohol Soju. This is a clear manifestation of friendly relations between our two countries since the establishment of diplomatic ties.
Standing at a new historical starting point, South Korea-China relations are faced with both new opportunities and challenges. I believe that both our two countries are within the East Asian cultural sphere, enjoy a long history of friendly exchanges, and bilateral relations feature strong resilience and great potential. We should take a long-term and far-sighted view, as well as give priority to friendly cooperation to develop our relations and bring our people closer to each other.
Generally, exchanges between local governments or public institutions of different countries are a supplement to communication between central governments, and serve as a bridge to strengthen local cooperation and enhance mutual understanding and friendship. South Korea and China should also step up public diplomacy and people-to-people dialogue, which will greatly help boost bilateral exchanges and bring our people closer.
I would like to stress that the young generation, in their prime, bears the future of South Korea-China relations and shoulders the responsibility of carrying forward our traditional friendship and opening a new chapter of cooperation.
More exchange platforms and communication channels need to be provided for our young people, including Generation MZ, roughly those born from the 1980s into the 2010s. I hope that our young people, with mutual understanding, tolerance and appreciation, will focus on friendly cooperation between our two countries and make more positive contributions to a win-win situation.
With both real and fake news spreading across social media, I believe that face-to-face communication between young people is an effective way for them to learn to distinguish truth from falsity and think objectively, instead of being blinded by false and one-sided reports, which may affect bilateral relations.
The past three decades have proved that economic and trade cooperation act as a ballast for the growth of bilateral relations. Given that economic complementarity between our two countries has presented huge potential for cooperation, pursuing mutually beneficial cooperation and exploring cooperation in new areas is the right path for our two countries to jointly seek prosperity and achieve success.
Developing South Korea-China relations requires efforts lasting for generations. I believe that as long as we respect each other’s core interests, bilateral relations will make greater progress in the next three decades.
Editor’s note: Kwon Ki-sik is the head of the Korea-China City Friendship Association and was a visiting scholar at Peking University of China in 2022.