The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ambassador to South Korea, Xing Haiming, has publicly criticized Yoon Seok-youl, the former South Korean attorney general and a popular presidential candidate, for his stance on diplomacy and national security. However, many South Korean politicians condemned Xing’s comments, seeing them as CCP interference in the country’s upcoming presidential election.
Conservative Yoon Seok-youl, 61, is currently the most popular presidential candidate in the opposition party. In an interview with South Korea’s JoongAng Daily on July 14, Yoon suggested establishing an equal relationship with China by strengthening the South Korea–U.S. alliance and cooperation with countries of shared values.
Yoon supported the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or “THAAD,” in South Korea and emphasized that it strengthens its national sovereignty.
THAAD is a U.S.-designed and manufactured anti-missile system installed in South Korea between 2016 and 2017 to defend against North Korea’s nuclear missile threats. However, the CCP has insisted that the deployment of THAAD affects China’s security and has since adopted a series of countermeasures against South Korea.
On July 16, the Chinese ambassador to South Korea, Xing Haiming, published a signed statement on JoongAng Daily, saying that “the South Korea–U.S. alliance should not harm China’s interests” and “THAAD seriously harms China’s security interests.”
It is rare for a CCP ambassador to publicly criticize a South Korean presidential candidate’s national security and diplomacy stance.
In response to Xing’s statement, Jin Park, a member of the People Power Party, the largest opposition party in South Korea, asserted on July 16, “Please do not interfere in the South Korean election.”
“Ambassador Xing’s statement was a breach against diplomatic conventions, and it is a regrettable action,” Park wrote on Facebook. “For a stationed ambassador to ignore the common diplomatic practice, criticize a presidential candidate, and meddle in another country’s politics is an obvious violation of its sovereignty. This action can only mean the CCP seeks to interfere in the South Korean election and invites criticism.”
Park also urged South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to “confirm whether this is an official position of [the CCP] and denounce it.”
“When a diplomatic agency in South Korea asserts its position on the country’s politics, it is necessary to be cautious and avoid damaging the relationships between the two countries,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded on July 17.
Another member of the People Power Party, Jeong Jin-seok, also criticized Xing, saying that “THAAD is the minimum defensive measure taken to protect South Korean citizens against North Korea’s nuclear missile threat. And saying that [THAAD harms China’s interest] is absolutely absurd. What a pity!”
In addition, Choi Kang, vice president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, told South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo that it is very unusual for stationed ambassadors to publicly comment on politics in the host country. Judging from Xing’s rare act of submitting articles to newspapers, it should be obvious the order came from the CCP, he said.