China tells South Korea: resist being led astray by US Indo-Pacific strategy

China has warned South Korea against joining the US-led Indo-Pacific strategy, which Beijing sees as a containment policy.

Speaking to his South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong by telephone on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also called for further cooperation on technology between the two countries.

“The Indo-Pacific strategy promoted by the United States is full of cold-war mentality and is provoking confrontations between groups, which is not conducive to the overall situation of regional peace and stability,” Wang was quoted as saying in a statement by the Chinese foreign ministry.

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“As a friendly neighbour and strategic partner, [South Korea] should grasp right and wrong, adhere to the correct position and abide by the political consensus instead of being led astray.”

There was a need for the neighbours to strengthen “timely communications as the international and regional situation has been changing rapidly recently”, Wang said.

Beijing has long criticised the Indo-Pacific strategy, seeing it as an attempt by the US to gain a stronger presence in the region, including by turning nations there against China.

The warning from Wang came days before a leaders’ summit of the Group of Seven (G7), the informal club of leading industrial democracies comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the US.

Hours earlier, the US Senate passed a US$250 billion bill to counter China’s hi-tech industries, which Beijing said was an example of Washington hyping up “the so-called China threat”.

China is expected to loom large at the summit, which starts on Friday. It remains locked in clashes with the US and its allies over issues including Taiwan, Xinjiang and the investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.

US President Joe Biden last week said in an opinion piece in The Washington Post that his G7 trip was focused on rallying the world’s democracies to confront the “harmful activities of the governments of China and Russia”.

South Korea is not a G7 member, but President Moon Jae-in will attend the summit at the invitation of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Britain is this year’s G7 host.

Speculation is growing that a reference to Taiwan could be included in the final joint statement after the three-day gathering. This would be expected to upset Beijing, which sees the self-ruled island as part of its territory, to be brought under its control by force if necessary.

During his telephone conversation with Wang, Chung said South Korea was “fully aware of the sensitivity” of the Taiwan issue, and willing to deepen mutual political trust with China.

A long-term ally to Washington, South Korea is trying to chart a middle way between the US and China, its largest trading partner. But the margin to maintain its strategic neutrality has been squeezed, including in technology, in which South Korea’s semiconductor industry is one of the global leaders.

Taiwan was last month mentioned in a joint statement after Moon’s meeting with Biden at the White House, when the two leaders also agreed to promote human rights at home and abroad, and support regional mechanisms including the Quad, a US-led grouping joined by Japan, Australia and India that Beijing sees as part of efforts to counter China. At the time, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the US and South Korea should not “play with fire”.

During Wednesday’s call, Chung called on China to “play an important and constructive” role on the North Korea issue. In response, Wang said China supported efforts to improve relations between the two Koreas, and the United Nations Security Council should ease sanctions against the North.

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