South Korea-China relations: Key takeaways

EICN recently held an event in Seoul that brought together experts from academia and business to discuss the relationship between South Korea and China, and what their improvement or worsening could mean for businesses in the region.

Special thanks to our thought-provoking speakers Sukhee Han, Hanjin Park, Seokyoung Choi, Jacco Zwetsloot and Dr. Rodrigo González for sharing expert insights with our network members.

Here are some key takeaways from the event for those who missed it:

  • South Korea’s heavy dependence on China as a trade partner has become a subject of much concern. Many believe that Beijing’s continued zero-covid obsession – with its economic implications – and South Korea’s impressive advances in semiconductor technology, could create the opportunity to diversify its trade account.
  • Korean-Chinese relations especially deteriorated after the instalment of the Thaad anti-missile system on Korean soil in 2017. Added to this, the wobbly US-China trade and political stance have deepened the anti-China sentiment among Koreans, as the US is seen as a strategic political and commercial ally. At the same time, nationalist education in China is stoking some anti-Korean sentiment among young Chinese.
  • China’s population is undergoing big demographic shifts due to ageing and urbanisation, amongst others, that could provide opportunities for Korean businesses to reach new markets with their products, for example, those that target older customers and younger people with different tastes to those of previous generations.
  • China seems less interested in bilateral free trade agreements than it did in the past, seeing more value in joining multilateral trade groupings and seeking to play a leadership role from within. Korea still pursues an FTA agreement with China on services, which will prove much more difficult than the existing one on goods.
  • Balancing China’s assertiveness and military advancements in the region is a shared mission that can bring South Korea and Japan closer together. As successful liberal democracies, aligned with the West and increasingly united with the US in military and commercial partnership, Tokyo and Seoul should seize the opportunity to overcome historical differences and work toward stronger cooperation.

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