South Korea’s surprisingly successful China policy

When Yoon Suk-yeol, South Korea’s president, took office last year, the odds of bilateral ties with China catching on increased. After all, Yoon has been tough on China on the campaign trail, and conservative South Korean politicians are generally suspicious of deepening US alliances and Chinese support for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea). Despite the growing rapprochement of DPRK-China relations, Yun has managed to effectively manage his government’s relationship with Beijing, setting a template for how other small and medium-sized countries can do the same.

Yoon’s carrot and sticks approach

Actually, as I have Before argued, Yun and his government have taken a somewhat tougher stance on China. For example, Yun became The first South Korean leader Attending the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit, he criticized not only Russia but also China. In April, before his state visit to Washington for a White House summit with President Joe Biden, Yoon Accused against „Attempt to forcibly change the status quo” in the Taiwan Strait. He also said that South Korea will cooperate with the international community to prevent such consequences. Yoon’s comment is predictable got angry China and a month-long diplomatic tit-for-tat extended into the summer.

As part of that summit, Biden and Yoon jointly provided The „Washington Declaration” included measures to promote extended deterrence, such as the establishment of a Nuclear Advisory Council, the exchange of nuclear-related information, and the arrival of nuclear-powered military assets such as the B-52 and submarines. One applied not only to North Korea, but also to China-related contingencies.

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But Yun simultaneously tried to be even-handed in dealing with Beijing. For example, then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Visited South Korea After her highly controversial trip to meet Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, Yun was nowhere to be seen. The President’s office said He was on a five-day vacation and had no plans to meet with Pelosi, although he had a last-minute phone call with her. His administration has also been smooth in the introduction of the country Indo-Pacific Strategic Statement In December, it referred to China as a „key partner” and said Seoul would „develop a sound and mature relationship with it as it pursues shared interests based on mutual respect and reciprocity guided by international norms and rules.”

Such moves may have contributed to the gradual stabilization and normalization of South Korea-China relations. For example, this week, South Korea Started again Trilateral talks with China and Japan, a mechanism that has been dormant since 2019. This foreign minister level meeting paves the way for a trilateral summit soon. In a surprise new deal set to take effect in May in Beijing He repented Visit Seoul this month, and its fishing fleet (and presumably anti-fishing forces) will order the South Korean coast guard to keep their monitors to combat illegal fishing inside its exclusive economic zone.

China’s potential considerations/calculations

Yun’s foreign policy is only part of the story. Poor Chinese economic numbers—a decline in exports, leveling off inflation, rising unemployment, declining consumption, production and investment—may prompt Beijing to seek a better partnership with Seoul. The same goes for Chinese President Xi Jinping Decided to meet with US President Joe Biden at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco earlier this month.

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Another factor may be Yun’s drive to open and strengthen ties with Japan, which has strained relations with China. Earlier this year, Yun held a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Since then, Seoul and Tokyo have agreed In August, Biden met with Yun and Kishida at Camp David in the first separate trilateral summit between the three countries to revive the military information-sharing agreement. Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin took another seat Unprecedented Tripartite North Korea is not the only target to share information related to „severe security situations” with South Korean and Japanese defense ministers, suggesting it is not. As such, Beijing is perhaps seeking to undermine and ultimately end the strengthening South Korea-Japan partnership it aims for.

Another factor may have more to do with China’s military modernization than anything South Korea does. When I visited Seoul earlier this month, I spoke with an interlocutor who believed Beijing’s calculus was changing rapidly.Three numbersIn 2017, Seoul demanded no new use of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries, no South Korean coordination with US regional missile defenses, and no trilateral military alliance with Japan and the US. His theory is that Beijing’s rapid progress in building a credible nuclear triad (capable of launching nuclear strikes from land, air and sea) diminishes the importance of pressuring Seoul to follow the three numbers.


South Korea is moving closer to a trilateral military alliance with the US and Japan, for example, which now includes joint military exercises, but China can still argue that the partnership is still nascent and transitory, shrouded in lingering mistrust. From World War II Legacy Issues, Comfort Women, etc.

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Ultimately, Yun’s China policy has so far been an unexpected success. He was emboldened by South Koreans’ negative views of China and the nation Now it is said There is global anti-China sentiment. Of course, Yun is still a relatively new president—less than two years into his five-year term—and more could go wrong if he pursues the Taiwan issue more assertively. But for now, Yun and his government have managed China successfully, and may provide a road map for how others can too.

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