S.K.-U.S. trade deal set to effect regional diplomatic, security issues

Posted on : 2007-04-03 14:10 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Experts say FTA may also be serving to check China’s rise, U.S.-Japan alliance
 where the FTA talks were held on April 2.
where the FTA talks were held on April 2.

The South Korean government has considered its free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations with the United States as merely an issue of economics since the talks opened in February last year. Indeed, with high-ranking diplomatic and security officials reportedly not taking part in any high-level South Korean government consultations regarding FTA stategies, Seoul has not really considered any effects the FTA might have on diplomatic and security situations, including the Korea-U.S. alliance.

However, experts are predicting that the S.K.-U.S. FTA will inevitably have a complicated impact on the diplomatic and security situation surrounding the Korean peninsula.

Professor Lee Dong-hwi at the state-funded Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS) called the FTA a "mixture of security and trade." Supporting such a view is the fact that problems regarding products made at the joint North-South Korean Gaeseong (Kaesong) Industrial Complex, the core of the development of an inter-Korean economic community, has been one of the central issues of debate during the negotiations.

Above all, the Korean government is expecting the FTA will contribute to diversification of its alliance with the U.S. A core South Korean diplomatic and security official, on condition of anonymity, said, "The FTA is anticipated to strengthen economic partnership, thereby supplementing and diversifying the bilateral relationship, which has so far largely involved a military alliance."

"If we can make the best use of such anticipated effects, the nation will be able to increase its room to maneuver," said another core South Korean government figure, also asking not to be named.

A high-ranking official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said, "The nation can expect that the FTA will offset the continued strengthening of the U.S.-Japan alliance, which seems to be advancing ROK-U.S. relations and applying the brakes on the influence of a rapidly emerging China." The official also asked not to be named given the sensitivity of the matter. A May 24, 2006 report by Washington’s Congressional Research Service (CRS) also cited strengthening the ROK-U.S. alliance and checking China’s political and economic influence on the Korean Peninsula and East Asia as strategic outcomes of the FTA between Seoul and Washington.

But the settlement of the FTA with the United States may represent a double-edged sword, with Seoul looking to check China’s economic rise but also being seen as joining in Washington’s attempts to control not only China’s economic power but its political influence, as well. Thus, strengthening the ROK-U.S. partnership through the FTA may damage South Korea’s ability to be a balancer of power in Northeast Asia, since the Chinese may see the deal as putting further distance between Seoul and Beijing.

In addition, a divided populace in both countries over the trade pact may do more harm than good to the S.K.-U.S. alliance, some experts said. Research professor Kim Yeon-chul at Korea University mentioned this variable: "During the process of the National Assembly’s review over the FTA, a fierce anti-FTA campaign could heighten anti-U.S. sentiment and the Korean citizens’ views toward the U.S. could be divided along stronger lines."

Seo Dong-man, a professor of Sangji University, said, "Considering current public opinion, the National Assembly may not ratify the deal. It would have been better for the Korea-U.S. relationship if the nation had suspended the negotiations and proceeded with them later at a slower pace."

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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