The U.S. Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin held a “2+2” meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Defense Minister Seo Wook in Seoul on the 18th. The two countries have been working together for the first Time in 11 years since 2010. A joint statement issued by the two countries after the meeting noted that the U.S.-South Korea alliance is the central axis of peace, security and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific region, and that this relationship is more important than ever in the face of rising global threats. Experts in the field of diplomacy and international relations pointed out to Voice of America that the meeting signifies the rising importance of South Korea as an alliance and reflects the U.S. strategic consideration to build an East Asian order centered on the U.S.-Japan-South Korea alliance.
Blinken names China and North Korea again, stresses importance of joint alliance response
The meeting was held in the morning, after which Blinken and Austin held a press conference with Chung Eui-yong and Seo Wook to explain the contents of the meeting. Following his criticism of China and North Korea at the U.S.-South Korea foreign ministers’ meeting the previous evening, Blinken again pointed out the threats posed by China and North Korea and emphasized the importance of the alliance’s joint response.
“We are well aware of China’s continued reneging on its commitments and have had discussions about the difficulties that China’s aggressive, authoritarian actions pose to security in the Indo-Pacific region, and China’s behavior makes a commensurate response among allies all the more important,” Blinken said, adding, “Democracy At a time of global retreat, confronting China’s anti-democratic behavior is all the more important.”
In response to North Korea, Blinken noted that “North Korea’s residents are suffering widespread systemic abuse under a repressive regime” and that “U.S. policy goals are to reduce the widespread threat posed by North Korea to the United States and its allies and to improve the lives of all people on the Korean Peninsula, including its residents. “.
Austin also made clear that “from the standpoint of the U.S. Department of Defense, China is a long-term challenge topic” and “I am confident that the U.S.-ROK alliance, as the central axis of peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, will be able to address all challenges together.”
The South Korean side likewise stressed the importance of the two countries working together to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. Jung Eui-yong said, “The North Korean nuclear issue is a matter that needs to be addressed urgently by the ROK and the U.S., and close cooperation between the two countries is vital” and that “the ROK and the U.S. are strongest when they cooperate.” Seo Wook also said that the two foreign ministers and defense ministers decided to continue to maintain close communication and cooperation to achieve the common goal of denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Based on the above consensus, the two countries issued a joint statement stating that they will further enhance cooperative relations in the future based on shared values such as mutual respect and trust, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law; reaffirm their mutual commitment to the defense of South Korea and the strengthening of their joint defense posture; and that the North Korean nuclear and missile issues are a priority concern for the alliance between the two countries. The statement also emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Japan-South Korea alliance, explicitly opposed undermining the rules-based international order, and re-emphasized maintaining cooperation to create a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
After the meeting, the two defense ministers also attended the 11th U.S.-ROK defense cost-sharing agreement initialling ceremony. That afternoon, Blinken and Austin visited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to convey the importance that President Biden attaches to the U.S.-South Korea alliance.
Experts: U.S. strengthens Asian order with different roles for Japan and South Korea
Experts in the field of diplomacy and international relations believe that the meeting reflects the rising importance of South Korea as an ally, behind which is the U.S. strategic consideration to create a regional order in Asia with the U.S.-Japan-South Korea alliance as the center.
Raymond Pacheco Pardo, associate professor of international relations at King’s College London (Courtesy)
Ramon Pacheco Pardo, associate professor of international relations at King’s College London, said in a written interview with the Voice of America that the meeting showed the importance of South Korea as an ally for the Biden Administration.
Shin Kak-soo, a former first official (equivalent to deputy minister) at the South Korean Foreign Ministry, believes the reason behind this is that “East Asia is the most important strategic region for the Biden administration, and repairing the alliance system with Japan and South Korea will help stabilize the volatile strategic environment in East Asia.
Hwang Ji-hwan, a professor of international relations at Seoul Metropolitan University, also believes that “the meeting means that the Korea-U.S. alliance has been restored to its past state”. The Biden administration’s consideration of the U.S.-Japan-South Korea alliance as the center of the East Asian order to deal with the rise of China.
However, unlike the U.S.-Japan joint statement, the U.S.-South Korea joint statement did not directly criticize China by name, but emphasized cooperation on North Korea. Experts pointed out to VOA that this reflects the different roles that Japan and South Korea play in the tri-national alliance system.
According to Shin Kak-soo, “the South Korean-U.S.-Japanese cooperative system has played an important role in maintaining regional peace and stability since before the rise of China, and it cannot be said to be a cooperative system just to confront or hold back China. The biggest issue between South Korea and the United States is how to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through negotiations, eliminate the North Korean nuclear threat, and maintain stability and peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Hwang Ji-hwan further noted that the Biden administration recognizes the complexity of bilateral relations in East Asia and has therefore opted for a more subtle approach than an aggressive strategy. “The three countries share a common understanding of the Chinese threat, but the specific response will vary depending on the specific issue,” “Japan will be more aggressive in holding China in check, while South Korea will try to play a buffer role between the U.S. and China. (omitted) South Korea will prioritize the resolution of issues related to the Korean peninsula, and therefore will show stronger alliance cooperation in this regard.”
Future Outlook: Joining QUAD+ is in Korea’s interest to build a regional technology chain in East Asia
After this trip to Japan and South Korea, what specific actions will the three countries take in the region in the future? In the diplomatic arena, nothing has received more attention than whether South Korea will join the expanded Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD+). The two countries did not discuss the issue directly at the meeting, and South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong only reiterated in response to questions at a press conference that South Korea would cooperate as long as the mechanism was open, inclusive and transparent. On this issue, the biggest obstacle for South Korea comes from China. In fact, just one day before the first QUAD summit, the official Chinese Communist Party media Global Times published an expert commentary warning about South Korea joining QUAD+.
Experts, however, believe that joining QUAD+ is in South Korea’s interest. Shin Kak-soo said, “For South Korea, which is highly dependent on foreign trade, a free and open Indo-Pacific order is a matter of survival. (omitted) South Korea is an ally of the United States and has a strategic partnership with China. South Korea’s national interest lies in developing Korea-China relations based on the alliance, and China should accept this fact. Although the specifics of QUAD+ have not yet been determined, South Korea’s joining this mechanism is like China signing RCEP and joining CPTPP to improve its intra-regional discourse. China has no reason or name to oppose the establishment of various cooperation mechanisms by other countries in the region, and it is undesirable to interfere with the judgment of other countries based on their sovereignty.”
Pardo and Hwang Ji-hwan further pointed out the possibility of South Korea joining. The duo recently published a joint article in The Hill, noting that Seoul is considering joining QUAD+. “If the Biden administration makes QUAD or QUAD+ present itself as a cooperative mechanism focused on vaccines, climate change, a rules-based international order and other topics that do not explicitly confront China, then South Korea would join because the benefits of membership would far outweigh any potential retaliation. Japan is a member of the Quadripartite Security Dialogue, but has not faced any retaliation from China. Australia’s friction with China is due to other issues than QUAD, so I think this will encourage the opinion within Seoul that joining the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue will not lead to a deterioration in Korea-China relations,” Pardo noted.
Ji-hwan Hwang, professor of international relations at Seoul Metropolitan University, South Korea (Courtesy of Ji-hwan Hwang)
“Judging from the joint statement of QUAD’s first summit, it does not show a tendency to create NATO-style alliances or aggressive confrontation with China in East Asia; it corresponds more to soft issues such as the new crown Epidemic and climate change, and emphasizes its soft and open features such as freedom and openness, inclusiveness, health, and democratic values. (C.O.D.) If QUAD can maintain the current form of this soft agreement mechanism, it will be of great help to solve many problems in the Asian region, and Korea is expected to give policy cooperation from the level of cooperation”, said Hwang Ji-hwan.
Experts also raised the possibility of the U.S.-Japan-South Korea alliance to cooperate in the economic field and avoid the risks of China. According to Pardo, the U.S., Japan and South Korea could cooperate on establishing technology supply chains with other partners such as Taiwan or Europe. “Modern supply chains depend on high-tech semiconductors produced in Taiwan and South Korea, and no supply chain can operate without the participation of South Korea.
Kim Yang-hee, Minister of Economic, Trade and Development Research at the National Diplomatic Academy under the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also told Voice of America that the New Crown epidemic has exposed some weaknesses in the global value chain, and the importance of regional cooperation has become increasingly important, “Within the East Asia region, South Korea and Japan should cooperate to create an environment where all countries can survive together and not be overly dependent on China “.