Great news. China and South Korea have patched up their relations. When the US begun moving its THAAD missiles to South Korea, ostensibly aimed at North Korea, China imposed undeclared economic sanctions on Seoul.
On the sidelines of the APEC meeting in Vietnam on November 10-11 the pair formalized a deal where China will normalize economic relations with South Korea, and Seoul in turn publicly declares it will not allow further US missile deployments on its territory, will not join the US anti-missile shield, and will not join into an anti-China military alliance with US and Japan.
Mind you, these are not so much concessions to Beijing, as they are concessions to the public of South Korea, which elected Moon in the first place. The anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea would not permit an alliance with Tokyo in the first place. That South Korea will not participate in US missile shield initiatives has been the position of Seoul since Kim Dae-jung, Moon’s mentor and originator of the Sunshine Policy of engagement with Pyongyang. Likewise, many South Koreans know that THAAD even can only intercept missiles at the altitudes above 40 kilometers. That means it is even just in theory incapable of protecting the great majority of South Korean territory including the capital city from a missile from the North.
Particularly since Hillary Clinton’s tenure as the US foreign policy chief and her Asia Pivot policy the US has been working overtime to drive a wedge between China and its neighbors and organize an anti-Chinese alliance right on Beijing’s doorstep.
The election of pragmatic and peace-inclined Moon Jae-in and his success in normalizing relations with China instead has dealt a huge blow to that policy.
China is South Korea’s number one partner and accounts for one third ($157 billion) of its exports. Its trade with the US is less than half that amount ($67 billion exports).
Additionally, albeit South Korea has its share of anti-Pyongyang hawks, Seoul and Beijing both share a profound interest in avoiding military conflict in East Asia and resolving any tension on the Korean peninsula peacefully, which in practice means with the minimal involvement of American cowboys.
Ideally South Korea would shake off the American tutelage (which it no longer needs given its newfound industrial and military might, and political legitimacy that came with democratization) entirely, which would instantly reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula and eliminate the need for Beijing to oppose a German-style Korean reunification under Seoul’s leadership.
Next month Moon will travel to China where the normalization deal will probably fleshed out further.