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When Chinese ride a Korean roller coaster

It is not every day that a hijacking brings nations together. But that has happened in the case of China and South Korea. And it would not be surprising if one day it led to establishment of diplomatic relations between the two. Peking just might be ready to get to know its capitalist neighbor better - even if such a move brought squawks from its communist North Korean ally and from Taiwan.

How did it all start? Five men and women last week hijacked an airliner in China and flew to South Korea. The Peking government, breaking its long ostracism of South Korea, flew officials to Seoul where the two sides amicably worked out an agreement for return of the passengers and crew and trial of the hijackers in South Korea - and where the Chinese caught their first glimpse of Korea's robust, lively society. Afterwards, South Korean officials hinted at the possibility of an ultimate diplomatic thaw. Significantly, neither side postured propagandistically. The negotiations were cordial throughout.

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It may be premature to speculate on diplomatic recognition - a move which among other things would raise the matter of Seoul's ties with Taiwan. Perhaps more likely will be a gradual development of unofficial, indirect contacts. Eventual recognition, in any case, would be logical from Peking's standpoint. It would move China into the Pacific area, where the Soviet Union has been extending its presence in recent years. It would also make possible a close-to-home source of modern technology and expertise, now that the South Koreans are moving up on the Japanese in the export of some manufactures.

There is of course a cultural affinity between the Chinese and the Koreans. Despite memories of the Korean war in which a tide of Chinese soldiers had to be pushed back across the border dividing North and South, the South Koreans have not eliminated the Chinese influence from their presence. In fact, they have stopped the elimination of Chinese characters in language instruction in the schools. As for the some 150,000 Chinese living in South Korea, they are not involved in politics and pose no internal issue.

In short, an interesting blip has appeared on East Asia's political screen. The West, above all the United States, is no doubt pleased that a precedent has been set - that the two ideological adversaries can talk cordially with each other and recognize a common interest in regional stability. It will be fascinating to see if and how soon those roller coaster rides to which the Chinese airline passengers were treated in Seoul translate into a diplomatic whirligig.

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