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Moon has phone conversation with Xi Jinping ahead of his call with Biden

한겨레 입력 2021. 01. 27. 17:46

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US expected to maintain strategy of containing China
South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Dec. 23, 2019. (Blue House photo pool)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the phone on the evening of Jan. 26 and agreed to work for the success of the South Korea-China year of cultural exchange, which will last from 2021 to 2022.

More notable than the topic of conversation, however, is the question of why Moon would have spoken with Xi so soon before his anticipated phone call with newly inaugurated US President Joe Biden.

Eight months had passed since Moon and Xi’s last phone call, in May 2020.

Moon and Xi’s phone call took place around 9 pm on Jan. 26. During the call, the two leaders agreed to further revitalize bilateral exchange and cooperation in the runup to 2022, which will be the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, Blue House Spokesperson Kang Min-seok said.

To mark that anniversary, South Korea and China plan to set up a joint committee, staffed by experts from the two countries, to draw up a roadmap for the development of their bilateral relationship over the next three decades.

Moon and Xi’s call came amid expectations that the Biden administration will hold to the strategy of pressuring China forged by Biden’s predecessor, former president Donald Trump. Given Moon’s upcoming call with Biden, Xi’s decision to speak on the phone with Moon is hard to write off as routine business.

“The problems facing the world are intricate and complex. The way out of them is through upholding multilateralism and building a community with a shared future for mankind,” Xi said in a speech at the Davos Agenda event at the World Economic Forum on Jan. 25.

In his remarks about “a community for mankind,” Xi obliquely criticized the “America first” platform adopted by the Trump administration and hinted that he’s willing to cooperate with the Biden administration.

The White House’s answer came in a press briefing on Jan. 25. “I think our approach to China remains what it has been [. . .] for the last months,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, adding that “we want to discuss [the path forward] with our allies.”

The US and China are essentially engaged in a sharp tug-of-war over their future diplomatic strategies.

Moon also apparently agreed to speak on the phone with Xi before his call with Biden in order to cautiously sound out China, South Korea’s biggest trading partner, amid these diplomatic changes.

However, an official at the Blue House denied that the phone call had been motivated by anything unusual. “The two leaders agreed that they should exchange New Year’s greetings since Xi had to call off the trip to South Korea he’d intended to make last year.”

The Blue House didn’t disclose which leader had brought up the idea of speaking on the phone.

By Lee Wan, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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