Disregarding public’s calls for balanced diplomacy, Yoon joins Biden’s anti-China bandwagon

Posted on : 2023-08-22 17:12 KST Modified on : 2023-08-22 17:12 KST
Rhetoric that came out of Camp David amounted to an explicit declaration of opposition to China by the leaders of South Korea, the US and Japan
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, US President Joe Biden, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida head into their summit at Camp David in Maryland on Aug. 18 after taking photos together. (Yonhap)
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, US President Joe Biden, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida head into their summit at Camp David in Maryland on Aug. 18 after taking photos together. (Yonhap)

South Korea, the US, and Japan “share concerns about the economic coercion or heightened tensions caused by China,” US President Joe Biden said in a press conference Friday following his summit at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

The remarks did not only reflect Biden’s thoughts as host of the summit.

The “Camp David Principles,” an official agreement produced at the summit, stated that “as Indo-Pacific nations,” the three sides “strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion.”

The anti-China emphasis was even more apparent in “The Spirit of Camp David,” another official agreement that doubled as a joint statement on the trilateral summit’s outcome.

The “Spirit” document listed the neighboring countries posing a threat to South Korea, the US, and Japan as being China, North Korea, and Russia, in that order.

This differed from the order of North Korea followed by Russia and then China in the “Phnom Penh Statement on US – Japan – Republic of Korea Trilateral Partnership for the Indo-Pacific,” which was announced on Nov. 13 of last year as the first document published and officially agreed upon by the three heads of state. Specifically, China was moved up from third place on the priority list to first.

Also, while the Phnom Penh memo did not mention the name “China” at all, the “Spirit” document commented on “unlawful maritime claims that we have recently witnessed by the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea” and stressed that the three sides “strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the waters of the Indo-Pacific.”

This amounted to an explicit declaration of opposition to China in a summit declaration by the South Korean, US, and Japanese leaders.

In a Yonhap News TV interview on Saturday, South Korean national security adviser Cho Tae-yong observed, “In early August, China caused a very dangerous situation when it fired a water cannon at a civilian ship from the Philippines.”

“[China] was added [to the document] after South Korea, the US, and Japan reached a mutual understanding about this,” he continued.

The three leaders’ declaration of opposition to Beijing did not stop at conflicts in the South China Sea — it also extended to military and economic areas.

In military terms, the three leaders presented a long list of “security cooperation plans” ostensibly meant to respond to the North Korean nuclear and missile threats — but actually targeting China. They announced that they were “committed to pursuing enhanced ballistic missile defense cooperation” and intended to achieve “real-time sharing of [North Korean] missile warning data” by the end of 2023.

In this respect, it is important to recall that relations between South Korea and China have yet to be “normalized” since the 2016 deployment of a US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) antimissile system in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, as a measure in response to North Korean ballistic missiles, which China vehemently objected to as an attempt to bring South Korea in the US’ missile defense system.

A veteran figure from the foreign affairs and national security field said Saturday that the new plans “appear to be an attempt to flesh out the US’ theater missile defense system in Northeast Asia.”

When asked whether the move constitutes a preliminary step towards South Korea’s incorporation into the US’ missile defense system, an official from the presidential office responded that it’s too early to come to such a conclusion.

The leaders of South Korea, the US, and Japan repeatedly stressed the importance of “peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and the “peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues” in “The Spirit of Camp David” and “Camp David Principles.” However, they did not reaffirm their countries’ commitment to respecting Beijing’s “One China” policy, which they promised when they established diplomatic relations with China.

Considering Biden’s repeated proclamation that the US would “defend Taiwan,” as well as the Japanese government’s statement that “a Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency,” it has become more likely that South Korea will get involved in the event of a “Taiwan emergency.”

In the economic sphere, the three leaders said they would commit to “working closely together to launch early warning system pilots.” After prohibiting the export of semiconductor manufacturing equipment and chips used in AI and supercomputers to China last October, Biden had signed an executive order banning investments in quantum computing, AI, and cutting-edge semiconductors in China on Aug. 9. Along with Taiwan, South Korea is a major manufacturer and exporter of cutting-edge semiconductors. Hence, an early warning system in regard to supply chains may be a trap the US and Japan set up in order to obstruct the export of semiconductors from South Korea to China.

Yoon’s decision to join the US and Japan in their blatant anti-China stance, demonstrated by his reference to a “strong alliance of values” during his joint press conference with Biden and Kishida following their summit, runs counter to public consensus in South Korea. According to the results of a national barometer survey conducted by Embrain Public, Kstat Research, Korea Research International, and Hankook Research published on Thursday, respondents preferred “balanced diplomacy between the US and China” (54%) over “strengthening the South Korea-US alliance” (41%).

Former high-ranking government officials criticized Yoon for “gaining ideology but risking the loss of practical and national interests through stooge diplomacy.”

By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer

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

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