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An Interview with Chinese Ambassador to the ROK
In front of the Chinese ambassador’s residence, situated at the foot of Mt. Bukhansan in Seoul, capital of the Republic of Korea (ROK), is a garden of verdant pines and cypresses with a wide open lawn, and sculptures silhouetted against the backdrop of rolling green hills. Inside the house is a commodious Korean-styled parlor decorated with painted screens and hanging scrolls, showing the influence of Chinese calligraphy and painting on Korean culture. The residence has received numerous Korean political figures and celebrities from various circles in the past, and has been host to a number of Sino-ROK diplomatic and goodwill activities. It was in this hall that Li Bin, the Chinese ambassador to the ROK, gave an interview to People’s Daily reporter Wang Linchang on the 10th anniversary of the establishment of China-ROK diplomatic ties.

“Never Giving up” -- Unique National Character

As a witness to the development of the Sino-ROK relations, Li has been extremely satisfied with bilateral cooperation between China and the ROK since diplomatic ties were first established in 1992. For the past ten years the two countries have maintained high-level exchanges and close diplomatic ties. While paying a state visit to China in November 1998, ROK President Kim Dae-jung and Chinese President Jiang Zemin agreed to build a ROK-China cooperative partnership for the 21st century, charting a course for future relations. When Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji visited the ROK in October 2000, both leaders agreed to further expand China-ROK relations by developing a much deeper partnership, and go well beyond what has been achieved to date.

Ten years ago, Li, as a senior interpreter to the Chinese leaders, was directly involved in negotiations to establish diplomatic relations between China and the ROK. After working for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula for many years as a professional diplomat, Li returned to Seoul last September to assume the office of the Chinese ambassador to the ROK. The Korean people’s hospitality and resolute spirit have clearly had a lasting impression on Li. “They have such a unique national character, doing whatever it is they set their minds to with the utmost determination,” Li said. This summer the whole world witnessed the ROK national soccer team’s amazing performance at the World Cup. “As long as the game was still going, the players were always running around the pitch like crazy, making every effort to score a goal.” Li also made reference to the ROK President Kim Dae-jung. “Kim is a legendary figure. Successive setbacks have never shaken his political convictions. Kim’s success epitomizes the national character of the Korean people,” said Li who was once received by Kim at home before he became the incumbent president.

Common Oriental Cultural Root

In the Cold War period, China and the ROK -- two countries sharing weal and woe with similar cultural traditions in history -- had been cut off from each other for nearly half a century. Since reestablishing diplomatic relations, great progress has been made in areas such as culture and education thanks to cooperative efforts of both sides. Recent years have seen the increasing prevalence of “Korean fashion” in China, and “China fever” becoming all the rage in the ROK. South Koreans interested in pursuing knowledge of China has led to a major influx of students. Last year, more than 22,100 South Korean students were registered at universities and colleges across China, while over 3,200 Chinese students are now studying in the ROK. According to the Embassy of the ROK in China, South Korean students have topped the list of international students in China, outnumbering even the Japanese. Statistics show that more than 130 universities and colleges from both countries have set up relations of friendship and cooperation.

Belonging to the same oriental civilization, both the Chinese and Korean cultures share common foundations in social customs, and religious values and beliefs, making communication and mutual understanding easier for the two peoples, and giving impetus to the rapid development of bilateral relations, Li said.

“Embassy Intrusion” Incident

On May 23, 2002, over 20 foreigners illegally made their way into the ROK embassy in Beijing. The Korean media made a spectacle of the issue, shaping public opinion with highly exaggerated accounts. In Korea on the ROK radio, Li related the true state of the incident and made clear China’s position on this issue, leaving the South Korean public to judge for themselves the moralities of the case once having heard both sides of the story. Confronted with fabricated reports, it is necessary for an ambassador to withstand tremendous outside pressure and spare no effort in clarifying the facts, Li said. Gathering outside the Chinese embassy, some deceived Koreans shouted, “Go home.” “The exchange of ambassadors is two-way agreement. If I go home, what about the ROK ambassador to China?” Li asked humorously.

An Understanding Wife

Before coming to Seoul, President Jiang Zemin told Li that he should be prepared to shoulder greater responsibilities at work. Sure enough, in less than a year Li has been engaged in over 720 public functions and has given over 60 lectures concerning Sino-ROK relations and China’s diplomatic policies. During his first two months, Li’s car had covered over 10,000 kilometers (about 6,214 miles). “Every time I see the national flag inside my car in front of me, a sense of duty swells up inside my heart. As an ambassador, every move I make embodies our national identity,” Li said. When handling the air crash in Busan this spring, the first air disaster in Air China’s history, the Chinese embassy immediately sent officials to the scene of the accident, and set up a contingency group headed by Li. This group expressed sympathy and solicitude, and provided a hot-line service for the relatives of the dead, showing the initiative taken by the government.

“I honestly owe it all to Chen, my wife, for her generous support. She has made many great sacrifices for my work,” said Li who was deeply touched. Li usually doesn’t return home until midnight. For most of the time Chen stays by herself in the ambassador’s residence, either downloading necessary documents for Li from the Internet, or sorting out news for the Chinese embassy’s website. Since getting married in 1986, the couple has been constantly on the go. As a result, they have had to give up the idea of having a baby.

“Without my wife’s understanding, there would be no way I could concentrate on my work at all,” Li said.

(人民网 [People’s Daily], translated by Shao Da for china.org.cn, September 14, 2002)

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