South Korea aligns with US Indo-Pacific strategy

May 23, 2022

south korean – President Yoon Suk-yeol formalized the country’s participation in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a US-led regional initiative, during his first summit with US President Joe Biden.

While the two leaders have announced their intention to elevate their strategic cooperation in the economic and security spheres, experts here say the South Korean administration is making a formal shift in policy by backing Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy, for its greater role in the region.

At their first bilateral summit on Saturday, Yoon and Biden expressed their commitment to cooperate closely through IPEF on the principles of openness, transparency and inclusiveness.

In a joint statement with Yoon, Biden said he shared his support for “Yoon’s initiative to formulate the Republic of Korea’s own Indo-Pacific Strategic Framework,” acknowledging the desires of the South Korean government to expand its presence in the region. ROK refers to Korea’s official name, the Republic of Korea.

While commending the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy in the joint statement, Yoon also expressed his commitment to increasing cooperation with Southeast Asian and Pacific Island countries to promote sustainable development, security high-quality energy and transparent investments, as well as high-quality infrastructure. .

“The world has maintained a principle of common and free trading standards under the supervision of the World Trade Organization. But many blocks were created in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, and the risks in the supply chain persist today,” Yoon said at a press conference after his summit with Biden on Saturday, explaining the reason for the decision to join the US-led economic framework. .

The United States maintains that the economic initiative aims to establish common regional standards for sectors such as supply chain resilience, clean energy, infrastructure, digital trade and cybersecurity.

But it is widely seen as an attempt by the United States to form a regional coalition to squeeze China out of the global supply chain amid escalating US-China rivalry.

With their shared values ​​as a backdrop, Yoon and Biden also decided to launch a strategic consultation channel called Economic Security Dialogue under their respective presidential offices to discuss cooperation in key economic areas.

Meanwhile, Yoon has shown an interest in working more closely with the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a US-led security group that includes India, Japan and Australia.

But the United States said it was not considering Seoul’s participation in the group at this time.

“It’s natural… to think about how you can work with other like-minded democracies, but I think it’s also important to recognize that the current goal is to develop and build this which has already been put in place,” a US official said. An administration official was quoted by Reuters on Sunday.

The leaders of the Quad member countries are expected to hold their second face-to-face meeting in Tokyo on Tuesday. This will be the group’s fourth meeting since Biden’s inauguration.

Change in Korea’s policy for the Indo-Pacific region

South Korea’s adherence to the US-led economic framework and its intentions to play a greater role in the Indo-Pacific region show that the Yoon administration is clearly siding with the United States in the US rivalry. -Chinese, said experts here.

“By declaring its participation in the IPEF, the Yoon administration clarified its intention to participate in the United States’ efforts to reorganize the world order, such as in its Indo-Pacific strategies,” said Chung Jae-hung, researcher at University. Sejong Institute told the Korea Herald.

The previous administration of Moon Jae-in pursued a “New Southern Policy”, which symbolized their cautious stance in handling relations between Washington and Beijing.

But Yoon’s statements at the latest summit signal a reorientation of Korean foreign policy away from his predecessor.

“The previous administration backed away from similar demands from the United States, while the Yoon administration seems to be clearly on the side of the United States,” Chung said.

Park Won-gon, professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University, said Saturday’s summit demonstrates the Korean government’s attempt to reorient its foreign policy. This is, in fact, the starting point for the Yoon administration’s establishment of its foreign policy “grand strategy,” Park said.

“As the Yoon administration has announced its desire to expand its role in the region, it must bring a more concrete plan to promote values, such as how the United States has its rules-based order strategy. “, Park told the Korea Herald.

According to Park, the slight differences in wording between the joint statements by the United States and South Korea indicate that the Yoon administration is also cautious about fully absorbing the regional strategy of the United States.

“The Yoon administration has agreed to follow Biden on many counts. But he placed his core principle as ‘free, transparent and inclusive’, keeping his distance from the ‘free and open’ strategy of the United States,” Park said, noting how the words of a joint presidential statement reflect the intentions of participating governments.

Siding with the United States against China?

There are fears that Korea’s change in approach could elicit backlash from China. China’s foreign ministry has also warned South Korea against “decoupling” and possibly “cutting (supply) chains” with China.

But experts here said the neighboring country would not be able to take adverse action against Korea at this time, as China also has its own difficulties to deal with, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although South Korea is a member of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – an economic partnership led by China – this would also not have much impact on Korean foreign policy, as many countries are members, including Japan. , said Chung of the Sejong Institute.

Moreover, the grouping hasn’t been as active since its launch in November 2020, Chung added.

Park of Ewha University also said eight to 10 countries are joining IPEF and that it would be “irrational” for China to impose de facto sanctions only on South Korea.

After Saturday’s summit, a national security adviser explained on condition of anonymity that South Korea’s membership of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and its plans to join IPEF do not conflict in terms of national interest.

“(Korea’s participation in) RCEP is also the country’s effort to expand and promote economic cooperation in the region, just like IPEF and the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” the official said.

“Being a member of RCEP does not mean that we cannot join IPEF and the comprehensive and progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. I think we should refrain from thinking that China will be happy if we are in RCEP, and get angry if we join IPEF,” the official added.

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