China–South Korea relations

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China–South Korea relations
Map indicating locations of China and South Korea


South Korea
Diplomatic Mission
Chinese Embassy, Seoul Korean Embassy, Beijing
Ambassador Qiu Guohong Ambassador Kim Jang-soo
Chinese embassy in Seoul, South Korea.

International relations between the People's Republic of China and South Korea were formally established on August 24, 1992.[1] Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s the PRC recognized only North Korea while South Korea in turn recognized only the Republic of China in Taiwan. South Korea was the last Asian country to establish relations with the People's Republic of China. In recent years, China and South Korea have endeavoured to boost their strategic and cooperative partnership.[2]

History of relations[edit]

Relationship with ROK in mainland before 1949[edit]

Korean War[edit]

The newly established People's Republic of China participated in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953, sending People's Volunteer Army to fight against South Korean and United Nations troops in October 1950 on the side of the North Koreans. It successfully drove the UN forces out of North Korea, but its own offensive into the South itself was repelled. The participation of the PVA made the relations between South Korea and China hostile. The Korean War concluded in July 1953, resulting in the establishment of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, and the eventual withdraw of Chinese forces from the Korean Peninsula.

Post-Korean War[edit]

Throughout the Cold War, there were no official relations between communist China and capitalist South Korea. The People's Republic of China maintained close relations with North Korea, and South Korea maintained diplomatic relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan. This hindered trade between Seoul and Beijing, because South Korea was unable to protect its citizens and business interests in China without some form of international agreements. Beijing's economic needs involving South Korea were initially eclipsed by those of Moscow. However, because of secondary economic needs and geographic proximity, South Korea and China began active trade nonetheless.

Relations under Park and Chun (1961–1988)[edit]

President Park Chung-hee initiated and President Chun Doo-hwan advanced a policy of establishing relations with China and the Soviet Union, and attempting to improve those with North Korea. China and the USSR had significant sway in determining the future of the Korean Peninsula. Good relations with old allies of North Korea were therefore integral to the Nordpolitik policy.

Seoul's official contact with Beijing started by the landing of a hijacked Chinese civilian airliner in May 1983. China sent a delegation of thirty-three officials to Seoul to negotiate its return. This marked the beginning of a series of casual exchanges of citizens. For example, in March 1984, a South Korean tennis team visited Kunming for a Davis Cup match with a Chinese team. In April 1984, a thirty-four-member Chinese basketball team arrived in Seoul to participate in the Eighth Asian Junior Basketball Championships. Some Chinese officials reportedly paid quiet visits to South Korea to inspect its industries, while South Korean officials visited China to attend a range of international conferences. Since China and South Korea began indirect trade in 1975, the trade volume has steadily increased.

Late 1980s[edit]

Active South Korean-Chinese individual contacts have been encouraged. Academics, journalists, and particularly families divided between South Korea and China were able to exchange visits freely in the late 1980s. Significant numbers of citizens of each country reside in the other. As of 2009, more than 600,000 PRC citizens reside in South Korea, of whom 70% are ethnic Koreans from the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China's Jilin Province and other parts of China, while roughly 560,000 South Korean citizens lived in China.[3][4]

However, significant barriers to strong trade and relations persisted. The absence of any protections granted by official relations had still remained. Beijing has been politically closer to P'yongyang, and relations with North Korea remained tense and distrustful.

It had been difficult for analysts to predict what effect a political turmoil in the People's Republic of China would have on Sino-Korean relations. After the military putdown of demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in June 1989, Pyongyang predictably came out in support of Beijing's actions. Seoul, on the other hand, did not condone or condemn the actions in Tiananmen Square.


Trade between the two countries continued to increase nonetheless. Furthermore, China has attempted to mediate between North Korea and the United States and between North Korea and Japan and also initiated and promoted tripartite talks—among Pyongyang, Seoul, and Washington.

South Korea had long been an ally of the Republic of China. Diplomatic ties between Seoul and Taipei were nevertheless severed in 1992. Formal diplomatic relations were established between Seoul and Beijing on August 24, 1992 and by 2004 China had become South Korea's leading trading partner.[5]

After the KORUS FTA (United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement) was finalized on June 30, 2007, the Chinese government has immediately begun seeking an FTA agreement with South Korea. The FTA between Korea and China are under discussion and the China-Republic of Korea Free Trade Agreement was finalized on December 20, 2015. Tariffs on 958 products including medical equipment, transformers, etc. were eliminated. On January 1, 2016, tariffs were eliminated on 5,779 products for 2 years. Also, in 10 years it is estimated that the Chinese tariffs will gradually go down and be eliminated on 5,846 products.[6] South Korea has been running a trade surplus with China, which hit a record US$32.5 billion in 2009 and total trade between the two nations surpassed US$300 billion in 2014.[7][8]

On 29 November 2010, a United States diplomatic cables leak mentioned two unknown Chinese officials telling then Vice-Foreign Minister Chun Yung-woo that the PRC would favor a Korea reunified under the South's government, as long as it were not hostile to China.[9]

It was announced on 10 January 2011 that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) established two teams of China experts and language specialists under its department handling Chinese affairs in an effort to strengthen diplomacy. An analytical team will report on political, economic and foreign affairs developments in China, and a monitoring team consisting of seven language specialists will report on public sentiment in China. The Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS), a think-tank affiliated to MOFAT, also launched a centre dedicated to China affairs, which will act as a hub to collate research on China undertaken in Korea.[10]

The Park-Xi summit in 2013 showed promise of warming relations, but this quickly chilled after China extended their Air Defense Identification Zone (East China Sea) over South Korean territory.[11] Despite this, in July 2014, Xi visited South Korea before its traditional ally North Korea, and in their talks, both leaders affirmed their support for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and the ongoing free trade agreement negotiations.[12] Both leaders also expressed their concerns over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe's reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution.

In October 2016, South Korea lodged a formal complaint with Beijing accusing Chinese fishing boats of ramming and sinking a South Korean coast guard vessel. The incident occurred on October 7 when South Korean coast guard officers were trying to stop about 40 Chinese fishing boats from suspected illegal fishing off South Korea’s west coast.[13] The incidents of illegal Chinese entry continued and in November 1, 2016, South Korea ships opened fire on illegal Chinese boats. No casualties were reported.[14]


Chinese tourists to South Korea and year-on-year rate. From March 2017, tourists plummeted in retaliation for the installation of THAAD.

In late 2016, tension strengthened between China and the Republic of Korea after the United States and South Korea jointly announced the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in response to the continuous nuclear and missile threats by North Korea.[15] However, despite the U.S.’s statement that the deployment of the THAAD is “purely a defensive measure… only aimed at North Korea” and has no intention to threaten China’s security interests, China has continuously expressed its discontent over South Korea and U.S.’s decision because of its concern that the deployment of THAAD might be a measure by the U.S. to aim China.[16] Believing that the THAAD will undermine China's own nuclear deterrent capability, China’s Ambassador Qiu Guohong warned that the deployment of THAAD could “destroy” the China- South Korea ties in an instant, whereas the spokesperson of the president of South Korea warned China that deploying the THAAD is a “matter we will decide upon according to our own security and national interests." [17] As hostility grew upon the two states, China and South Korea held a summit in Hangzhou, eastern China, on Sept. 5, 2016 with each party’s leaders Xi Jinping and Park Geun-Hye to discuss the issue of THAAD. During the summit, President Park of South Korea reemphasized that the THAAD deployment is only to be aimed against North Korea and that there should be no reason for China’s security interest to be concerned. However, Xi reiterated China’s firm stance against the deployment of THAAD stating that it could “intensify disputes". Yet, the two countries still emphasized the long history of their relationship and agreed that a stable and healthy bilateral relationship will benefit both countries.[18]

With South Korea's decision in 2017 to accept the deployment of THAAD in the country, China's government has urged its citizens through official media to express their displeasure and ill will at South Korea over the move. [19] In a country which strictly controls demonstrations and protests, Chinese citizens were allowed to gather to show their anger. The news media has reported of citizen boycotts of Korean products, of Korean goods being removed from supermarket shelves, and tourists and travel companies canceling trips to South Korea. South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group became a particular focus of anger. Lotte had agreed to an exchange of land, a golf course in Seongju, with the South Korean government that will be used for the THAAD deployment. In addition to a consumer boycott of Lotte stores in China, municipal authorities suddenly discovered that Lotte stores and factories to be in contravention of fire safety regulations and other local ordinances which has resulted in the closure of 75 out of 99 Lotte supermarkets.[20][21][22] March sales of Hyundai and its sister brand Kia Motors in China plunged 52 per cent from a year earlier to 72,000 vehicles, the lowest level since 2014.[20] Chinese tourism also plummeted 39.4% (compared to March 2016) in March.[23] As a result, China has become a more hated country in South Korea than even Japan, according to an opinion poll conducted by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in March 2017.[24]

Historical issues[edit]

The Chinese historical claims surrounding Goguryeo and its related kingdoms created some tension between South (and North) Korea and the PRC.[25] The PRC government has recently begun the Northeast Project, a controversial Chinese government research project claiming Goguryeo and other various Korean kingdoms, including Gojoseon, Buyeo and Balhae, to be Chinese tributary states. This sparked a massive uproar in South Korea when the project was widely publicized in 2004.[26]


The antecedent of the South Korea government received the support of China.[citation needed]

Both the governments of China and South Korea take a firm stand on issues in relation to Japanese war crimes. Korea had been under Japanese rule after the collapse of the Joseon Dynasty in 1910. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Japan invaded and occupied eastern China.

During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army perpetrated many war crimes against both Chinese and Koreans. This has caused both to oppose the Japanese government's stand on war crimes committed in during the war. Issues where both the Chinese and South Korean governments stand together include the controversial visits of Japanese politicians to the Yasukuni Shrine, the Japanese history textbook controversies, and comfort women.

In 2014, a memorial dedicated to Korean assassin An Jung-geun was opened in the Chinese city of Harbin, where he assassinated Japanese Prime Minister Itō Hirobumi in 1909. The Japanese government protested the move, referring to An as a "terrorist".[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David Holley (August 24, 1992) South Korea, China Forge Official Ties : Diplomacy: Action increases pressure on North Korea to ease hard-line policies. Roh plans visit to Beijing Los Angeles Times
  2. ^
  3. ^ Kim, Kyoungwha (2009-01-09), "South Koreans Quit China as Yuan’s Gain Raises Cost of Living", Bloomberg, retrieved 2009-05-04 
  4. ^ "More Than 1 Million Foreigners Live in Korea", Chosun Ilbo, 2009-08-06, retrieved 2009-10-18 
  5. ^ Comrades in Broken Arms: Shifting Chinese Policies Toward North Korea Pg.580
  6. ^ "China-Korea FTA." China FTA Network. Ministry of Commerce of the People's Republic of China, n.d. Web.
  7. ^ "S Korea posts record-high trade surplus in 2009". 2010-01-14. 
  8. ^ Comrades in Broken Arms: Shifting Chinese Policies Toward North Korea Pg.580
  9. ^ Tisdall, Simon. "Wikileaks Cables Reveal China 'ready to Abandon North Korea'" The Guardian, 29 Nov. 2010. Web. 7 Dec. 2010. <>
  10. ^ "Korea strengthens China analyst team". 2011-01-12. 
  11. ^ Miller, J. Berkshire (30 November 2013). "Is the China-South Korea Honeymoon Over?". The Diplomat. Retrieved 30 November 2013. 
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Sherman, Paul Haenle and Anne. "The Real Answer to China's THAAD Dilemma." The Diplomat. The Diplomat, 12 Sept. 2016.
  16. ^ "Background Briefing with a Senior Administration Official on National Security Advisor Susan Rice's Visit to China July 26, 2016." Beijing/China. Embassy of the United States, n.d. Web.
  17. ^ Tiezzi, Shannon. "China Warns THAAD Deployment Could Destroy South Korea Ties 'in an Instant'" The Diplomat. The Diplomat, 25 Feb. 2016.
  18. ^ Song, Sang-Ho. "Yonhap News Agency." (6th LD) Park, Xi Reconfirm Differences pt. 2016.
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b "South Korea’s Hyundai, Kia sales halve in China amid diplomatic spat over THAAD". South China Morning Post. 5 April 2017. 
  21. ^ Mullen, Jethro; Han, Sol (7 March 2017). "One company is bearing the brunt of China's anger over U.S. missile system". CNN Money. Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  22. ^ Hernandez, Javier; Guo, Owen; McMorrow, Ryan (9 March 2017). "South Korean Stores Feel China’s Wrath as U.S. Missile System Is Deployed". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  23. ^ "3월 중국인 관광객 39% 줄어… '사드 보복' 영향" [Chinese tourists decrease by 39% in March ... Impact of 'THAAD Revenge']. Yonhapnews. April 5, 2017. 
  24. ^ Alex Linder(2017-03-22):South Koreans now hate China even more than Japan, new opinion polls says, Shanghaiist
  25. ^ 02Gries.pmd
  26. ^ Donga Monthly.
  27. ^ "Japan protest over Korean assassin Ahn Jung-geun memorial in China". BBC. January 20, 2014. Retrieved August 3, 2016. 

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