With an eye on China, South Korea focuses on the United States
After the foreign ministers of South Korea and China met on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, each government issued a statement hoping for bilateral cooperation.
South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said his government expects ties between the two countries to “develop on the basis of universal values and standards”. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing would work with Seoul to develop their relationship based on “mutual respect”.
Their meeting followed South Korea’s first participation in a NATO summit as a partner country. At the June 29-30 summit, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol pointed out that because NATO was “established on the basis of liberal democracy and the rule of law”, he hoped that “A cooperative relationship between NATO and the Indo-Pacific will become the cornerstone of a coalition upholding universal values. He did not name China.
Against this backdrop, experts say Seoul is cautiously moving away from Beijing, its biggest trading partner, as the world’s major powers split into liberal-democratic and autocratic camps. Yoon regularly speaks out in favor of a rules-based international order and alignment with US and US-led coalitions.
Seoul’s cautious turn
Ellen Kim, Deputy Director of the Korean Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said: “By participating in the NATO summit, the Yoon government has sent a clear message of alignment with NATO members and partners other than South Korea oppose any questioning of universal values. and the rules-based international order.
Andrew Yeo, SK-Korea Foundation Chair in Korean Studies at the Brookings Institution, said, “Yoon definitely looked to American and American allies and partners.” He went on to say “Yoon always wants to maintain positive diplomatic relations with China, but at the same time, he also expects Beijing to respect South Korea’s sovereignty and national interests.”
NATO, formed as a Europe-Atlantic security alliance, stressed in its Strategic Concept 2022 released at the summit that China is a “challenge” to its interests, security and values because of what the document calls its “coercive policies”.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded at a June 30 press conference, saying NATO had “once again misdefined China” and “dirty” its foreign policy. The Western alliance wrongly “pointed the finger” at Beijing’s “normal military stance”, Zhao said.
Beijing cautious against Seoul
Despite its harsh criticism of NATO, experts said China was careful not to antagonize South Korea, just as Seoul was unwilling to antagonize its neighbor. South Korea is one of China’s top five trading partners. according to Beijing figures and China is South Korea’s largest trading partner, according to SantanderTrade.
Evans Revere, former acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs for the US State Department during the George W. Bush administration, said China “didn’t respond well, predictably, to be cited as a long-term challenge by NATO”. But, he said, he “has been careful not to directly criticize Seoul so far.”
He went on to say that China “has few friends in the East Asian region other than North Korea, and therefore China is careful to avoid alienating” South Korea. This momentum offers “significant leverage which I suspect Seoul will carefully exploit in the coming months,” he said.
According to Gary Samore, former White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction during the Obama administration, China wants to “avoid a fight” with Seoul. “The more aggressively China acts, the greater the danger that the United States will succeed in building institutions” that include South Korea but not China, he said.
In May, Yoon joined President Joe Biden’s new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which Wang criticized as a US effort to place “other countries within a framework of its own norms and rules.”
Bruce Klingner, senior fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation, said the Yoon government has “clarified that a strengthened alliance with the United States will form the basis for opening Seoul to Pyongyang, Tokyo and Beijing”.
North Korean Postman
Samore also said South Korea’s approach to North Korea will be an important factor in coloring the complex ties between Beijing and Seoul as the Yoon administration puts its stamp on government policy.
From Seoul’s perspective, Samore said, “as long as China is ready to help North Korea prevent provocations,” Seoul “will see the value in continuing [a] relationship with China and avoiding actions that the Chinese would consider contrary to China’s interests”.
He said such actions would include a “closer association with the Quad”, an informal group comprising Australia, India, Japan and the United States. It is officially known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.
North Korea has launched 18 weapons tests this year and is widely believed to have completed preparations to conduct a nuclear test.
During his meeting with Wang in Bali, Park called on Beijing to play a “constructive role” in pushing North Korea to immediately end provocations and resume dialogue, according to the newspaper. South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
VOA’s Korea Service contacted the North Korean Mission to the UN and the Chinese Embassy in Washington and asked for their response to Seoul’s support for the rules-based international order and its move to the states. States, but did not receive a response.
Security alliances in Asia
Shortly after his inauguration, Yoon virtually participated in the Quad Summit held in Tokyo on May 24. Beijing sees the Quad as a direct strategy to contain its military expansion in the Indo-Pacific.
According to Sukjoon Yoon, a retired captain in the South Korean navy who is now a senior researcher at the Seoul-based Korea Institute of Military Affairs, Seoul “could initiate a joint gesture of security cooperation [with] Australia, New Zealand, [and] Japan” as well as with the Quad.
He, however, continued to say that because China and Russia have considerable influence over North Korea, the two nations could respond to greater South Korean cooperation with US-led coalitions by encouraging Pyongyang to organize “military reactions”.
Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at the Rand Corporation, said Yoon’s vocal support for “shared values” is “code language to counter China.” But, he said, neither that nor his attendance at the NATO summit is likely to trigger economic retaliation from Beijing.
However, if South Korea were to join the Quad and participate in military exercises “explicitly” aimed at China, that “would be a problem”, he said.
In 2017, Beijing closed China-based South Korean retail stores and banned tourism to South Korea after Seoul installed the US THAAD anti-missile system to protect against a possible North Korean attack.