Normalize Korea’s relations with China President Yoon Suk Yeol returned Saturday from his trip to San Francisco to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. During the three-day summit that began last Wednesday, Yoon stressed the expansion of Korea’s role and international cooperation amid the multiple global crises from climate change and schisms in global supply chains. In the summit, the leaders of Korea, the United States and Japan strengthened their solidarity after their Camp David summit in August. In Yoon’s first APEC summit since being inaugurated last year, he made diplomatic achievements of reinforcing the trilateral cooperation and elevating the stature of Korea on the international stage. In particular, Yoon showed off the fast pace of Korea recovering relations with Japan through his meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for three straight days. Regrettably, however, Yoon could not hold a bilateral summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the APEC summit, except for a three-minute conversation between the two heads of state. In international relations, any country would deal with counterparts based on its national interest. The reason why Xi did not meet with Yoon has not been disclosed yet. But Xi’s attendance in the events hosted by the National Committee on United States-China Relations, a nonprofit organization, and by the U.S.–China Business Council suggests that the botched bilateral summit did not result from a lack of time. Diplomatic experts attribute it to Korea’s focus on bolstering its relations with the United States and Japan. But Xi did meet with U.S. President Joe Biden and the Japanese prime minister during the summit. China is the largest trade partner for Korea and a country that can wield influence on Pyongyang to avoid military tension on the Korean Peninsula. Seoul cannot maintain unfriendly relations with Beijing forever just because of the breakdown of the bilateral summit. On China’s part, it cannot continue distancing itself from Korea, a close U.S. ally, either. Fortunately, a tripartite meeting among foreign ministers of Korea, China and Japan is scheduled for Nov. 26 in Busan. We hope that Korea creates an atmosphere to induce Chinese leaders to aggressively attend the meeting after checking the reasons for the botched summit in San Francisco. If Xi’s separate trip to Seoul is really difficult, the government must create the diplomatic room to discuss pending issues such as bilateral economic relations, denuclearization of North Korea, and the forcible repatriation of North Korean defectors, not to mention opening as many private channels of communication as possible before it’s too late.

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