South Korea Summons China's Envoy Over Comments Accusing Seoul of Tilting Excessively Toward US

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea's Foreign Ministry summoned China's ambassador on Friday to protest comments he made accusing Seoul of tilting toward the United States and away from China, as competition between Washington and Beijing for global influence intensifies.

South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Chang Ho-jin warned Chinese Ambassador Xing Haiming over his "senseless and provocative" remarks made during a meeting with a South Korean opposition leader.

The ministry accused Xing of violating diplomatic protocols and interfering with South Korean domestic politics but didn't specify the parts of Xing's comments it saw as inappropriate. The ministry also didn't share what Xing said in reply to Chang.

In a meeting Thursday with South Korean Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung, a key rival of conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol, Xing accused Yoon's government of leaning excessively toward Seoul's treaty ally, the United States, and damaging its relations with China, its biggest trading partner.

Xing said South Korea was entirely to blame for the "many difficulties" in bilateral relations, citing its growing trade deficit with China which he attributed to "de-Chinaization" efforts, apparently referring to actions by South Korean companies to shift their supply chains away from China. He demanded that Seoul respect Beijing's core interests including Taiwan and other major regional issues.

"With the United States pressuring China with all its might, some are betting that the United States will win and China will lose. But this is clearly the wrong judgment," Xing said, describing a rosy future for his country under authoritarian leader Xi Jingping. "What can be said with certainty is that those who bet on China's defeat will surely regret it later," Xing said.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry said Xing's "irresponsible" comments countered "the desire of both countries' governments and people to value and further advance South Korea-China relations based on mutual respect."

South Korea, whose economy depends greatly on exports of computer memory chips and other technology products, has struggled to strike a balance between the United States, its decades-long military ally, and China, the biggest buyer of its goods as the rivalry between Washington and Beijing deepens over regional influence and technology.

Faced with a growing nuclear threat from North Korea, Yoon has pushed aggressively to strengthen the alliance with the United States, making it a central goal of his policies.

Seoul has expanded joint military training with the United States and is seeking stronger assurances that it would swiftly and decisively use its nuclear weapons to defend South Korea in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack.

The Biden administration in turn has been seeking stronger three-way cooperation with South Korea and Japan to counter both the North Korean threat and China's increasingly assertive foreign policy.