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Seoul’s City Diplomacy towards the Three Northeastern Provinces of China: Strategies and Policies

Min-gyu LeeㆍEun-Hyun Park

This report explores why it is important for the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) to engage in exchange and cooperation with Chinas’ Three Northeastern Provinces. Based on an analysis on the urban problems faced by these provinces and the direction of their development policy, this document proposes five agendas for SMG in pursuit of its diplomatic strategies towards the three Chinese provinces. 

First, the SMG needs to focus on building trust with the three Chinese provinces. Political diplomacy opens the doors to a diplomatic relationship and helps countries build diplomatic foundations. Specifically, the SMG could consider the following: 1) diplomatic strategies spearheaded by the Mayor towards the building of a personal relationship and trust with next generation leaders; 2) Using Seoul’s diverse systems and programs (e.g., Seoul Club, honorary citizenship) for human resources management in various fields; 3) cooperation between Seoul’s public corporations and institutions such as The Seoul Institute and major research institutions from the three Chinese provinces so as to build a collaborative networks; and 4) environment-oriented cooperation in non-traditional security issues.  

Second, the SMG would do well to pursue public diplomacy in areas such as culture and human resource and also adopt foreign policies that focus on improving the Seoul’s image in the Chinese provinces discussed in this study. The following may be considered: 1) share Seoul’s outstanding policies on the six select areas (transportation, e-government, waterworks, environment, urban planning/housing, and sewage) which comprise the major urban issues in the Three Northeastern Provinces; 2) adopt a two-track strategy to resolve historical/cultural conflicts while disseminating the outstanding culture of Korea (Seoul); and 3) seek assistance from the Korean-Chinese demographic and utilize them as invaluable human resources in Seoul’s public diplomacy towards the Three Northeastern Provinces of China, allowing them to play a central role in bridging Seoul and the three Chinese provinces. The strategies must be designed to enable a multi-faceted approach to public diplomacy that emphasizes on the reputation of Seoul as an international city that leads the way in promoting peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia. 

Third, the SMG needs to pursue economic diplomacy towards the three Chinese provinces and explore the new markets for exports and investment opportunities. Currently, the SMG’s economic diplomacy is characterized by two main approaches: ‘take part in the development of cities and regions around the world’ and ‘create a suitable environment for investment in Seoul’. This approach may also be extended to the three Chinese provinces. In application, the following agenda may be considered: 1) participate in the development of Characteristic towns as well as in the national development of regions within the Three Northeastern Provinces; 2) win urban problem- related projects; and 3) establish an institutional framework to attract tourists from the three northeastern provinces. The entire process must be designed to achieve the ultimate goal of creating practical profits.

Fourth, the SMG needs to pursue peace diplomacy so as to build a multilateral economic cooperation model between the cities in the two Koreas, China, and other countries. Currently, economic cooperation cannot be instantly pursued given the domestic and international variables coupled with the international community sanctions. Until such time when it becomes a possibility, joint researches on the framework of multilateral cooperation may be conducted in advance to prepare for the future. It is crucial to take a realistic approach, first, pursue political and public diplomacy then peace diplomacy, later possibilities of aligning goals through comprehensive approaches to urban cooperation between Seoul and Pyongyang should also be explored. Academic exchanges and the international forum on peace on the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia could also be used as major drivers of peace diplomacy. 

It is crucial that political, public, economic and peace diplomacy are organically connected in their implementation, and pursued as a whole and not as independent entities. In this way, each area of diplomacy will realize their full potential.  

Finally, the SMG needs to build a long-term exchange platform on which the city can share agendas with the three Chinese provinces in a more stable and sustainable manner. This may be developed in two different ways: 1) by forming a sisterhood relationship with cities in the three provinces and designating them as Seoul’s strategic bases for city diplomacy in China (for which purpose Changchun, Harbin, and Shenyang may be selected as strategic target cities); and 2) by establishing a multi-layered comprehensive committee to establish a body for cooperation between Northeast Asia capitals and strategic cities. Meanwhile, committees may be established for Seoul-Jilin Province, one for Seoul-Liaoning, and the other for Seoul-Heilongjiang. In the mid-term, a committee could be established for cooperation between Seoul and the three Chinese provinces. In the longer term, efforts shall be directed towards establishing a cooperative body of capitals and strategic cities of Northeast Asia, including the Seoul-Beijing committee.