Seoul invokes policy on Southeast Asia engagement . . .
In a joint press conference with U.S. President Donald Trump, South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced that South Korea will join the Indo-Pacific Strategy, a U.S.-led initiative to ally with Asian partners to contain China. Moon said South Korea’s cooperation with the U.S. is consistent with its South Policy to deepen economic ties with Southeast Asia. The combined reference to the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the South Policy might suggest deeper South Korean involvement in the contentious South China Sea issue.
Symbolic yet significant . . .
Moon was unclear about what South Korea’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific Strategy might be. Even if military support is limited, the announcement has important implications. South Korea has never publicly spoken in favour of the strategy for fear of infuriating China, its most important trading partner. The last time South Korea acted against China’s will—its 2017 deployment of an American anti-ballistic missile defence system—China retaliated economically.
Balancing act . . .
The U.S. has pressured South Korea to show loyalty to its chief ally, using its military support of the South as leverage in enforcing compliance with efforts to contain China. Following a warming of relations between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung-un, the South may worry that U.S. support is wavering. Finding a middle path between appeasing the U.S. not angering China requires making difficult choices. Other countries, including Canada, are likely waiting and watching to see how this balancing act plays out.
- The (U.S.) Department of Defense: Indo-Pacific Strategy report
- The Diplomat: South Korea and the US Indo-Pacific Strategy: At an arm’s length?
- South China Morning Post: South Korea’s US-China dilemma deepens with support for America’s Indo-Pacific Strategy