Ever since North Korea announced it had conducted a nuclear test last week, China, Pyongyang’s closest ally, has been under pressure from Tokyo, Seoul, and Washington. But South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has come under scrutiny as well. In the past, Park has made improving relations with China a priority, arguing that closer ties with Beijing would not only be good for South Korea’s economy, but would also give Seoul Korea more leverage over the Norks. For a time, it seemed that Park was getting what she wanted. Beijing even set up a hotline for Seoul in the event of a nuclear event. But when South Korean officials dialed the number last week, no one answered. The failed call did, apparently, wake up President Park to certain realities about China, as she has since publicly and loudly asked Beijing to take a tougher stance toward its restive ally. Today, South Korean officials met with Chinese defense officials, according to the AFP:
The director-level defence talks are held every year, but were completely overshadowed this time around by the North’s fourth nuclear test last week, which triggered global condemnation and the promise of fresh UN sanctions [. . .]The talks came two days after South Korean President Park Geun-Hye urged China to step up to the plate and support genuinely punitive sanctions that would help bring Pyongyang to heel.
“I believe China is aware that if its strong determination is not put into actual, necessary actions, we will not be able to prevent a fifth or sixth nuclear test,” Park said.
In recent years, the relationship between Seoul and Beijing appeared to be warming. Last fall, President Park made a high-profile appearance in President Xi’s box at the Victory Day parade—a symbolic gesture that sent a clear signal. Yet, China is clearly unable (or unwilling, as many in South Korea suspect) to control North Korea, even while still insisting on retaining Pyongyang as an ally. This means that, despite the efforts of the past few years, there’s a pretty shallow limit to how deep the friendship between South Korea and China can become.