South Korea’s top diplomat warns of rising economic competition with China

By Thomson Reuters May 13, 2024 | 4:38 AM

By Hyonhee Shin

(Reuters) – Economic relations between South Korea and China face risks and challenges due to increasingly fierce competition over technology, South Korea’s Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul said on Monday ahead of talks with his Chinese counterpart.

Cho arrived in Beijing earlier in the day, marking his first trip to China since taking office in January and the first visit to the country by a South Korean foreign minister in more than six years.

At a meeting with South Korean business leaders, Cho said that once mutually beneficial economic ties were seeing intensifying rivalry, and vowed support for businessmen seeking to harness market opportunities in China while minimising any accompanying risks.

“The heavy interdependence between Korea and China has been a driving force behind mutual economic growth and prosperity, but it also has the duality of carrying risks and we are bound to be substantially affected by such a change,” Cho said, according to a transcript of his comments seen by Reuters.

“The Chinese economy is changing towards a technological and regional industrial structure, and the bilateral economic relationship is shifting from a once mutually complementary partnership to a competitive one, which I think is posing a serious challenge to us.”

Amid intensifying Sino-U.S. rivalry, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has sought to tread a careful path in his country’s relations with China, South Korea’s largest trade partner. But as a staunch U.S. ally, his administration has been more vocal over tension in the Taiwan Strait and China’s repatriation of North Korean defectors, among other issues.

South Korea and China have also been pushing to develop an edge in areas such as semiconductors and AI.

Cho is scheduled to hold talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi later on Monday to discuss an upcoming trilateral summit involving Japan and bilateral and regional topics, including the repatriation issue.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Editing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan)