DENVER – The so-called six-party talks – the on again, off again international mechanism by which the United States, China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan negotiate with North Korea over its nuclear aspirations – are often cited as an example of multilateral diplomacy. In fact, the talks have served as a platform for addressing a host of issues that range far beyond the North Korean nuclear problem, in the process nurturing interlocking, interrelated bilateral relationships in the region.
For the Chinese, in particular, the talks have been an opportunity to get to know some of their neighbors better – and they have certainly helped Sino-US relations. But perhaps the key bilateral relationship that has been strengthened by the six-party mechanism is that between China and South Korea. This will be on full display at the end of June, when South Korea’s new president, Park Geun-hye, visits Beijing to meet China’s new president, Xi Jinping.
China and South Korea need no introduction to each other, of course – such is the burden of history in the region. But their relationship is about to change, thanks in part to the patterns of official cooperation that the six-party talks created.
If the Chinese are successful in shifting away from North Korea, they have to pivot somewhere. And that place is South Korea. After all, China needs a sustainable relationship with the neighboring Korean Peninsula.