President Moon Jae-in gives an interview at the Blue House to the Singapore-based English news network CAN on Nov. 3 (provided by Blue House)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been raising eyebrows with his emphasis on “balanced diplomacy” on the eve of US President Donald Trump’s trip to Asia. With Moon reaffirming Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha’s remarks in the National Assembly that trilateral cooperation with the US and Japan must not turn into a military alliance at a sensitive time shortly before Moon and Trump’s summit, attention is focusing on why Moon made these remarks and on what he hopes to achieve.
During a telephone interview with the Hankyoreh on Nov. 5, a senior official at the Blue House said that Moon’s dismissal of the possibility of a military alliance with the US and Japan during an interview with Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia on Nov. 3 represented “a consistent position that has been voiced on several occasions” about a trilateral military alliance, which “public sentiment would never tolerate.”
“We are already cooperating with the US and Japan on defensive military exercises connected with the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles, but allowing this to develop into an alliance would basically pave the way for Japanese troops entering Korea,” the official said.
When Moon visited New York to attend the UN General Assembly in September, he reportedly made it clear during a work luncheon with Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Japan was “not South Korea’s ally.”
“President Moon has continued to express this attitude at every summit, and he has also said this directly to Prime Minister Abe a number of times,” said the official .
Moon’s remarks appear designed to alleviate the concerns of China, which is wary of the formation of a trilateral alliance between South Korea, the US and Japan. “The remarks opposing a military alliance with the US and Japan were made while emphasizing China’s role in regard to the North Korean nuclear issue. Another part of the context was the upcoming South Korea-China summit,” added the official. Moon is slated to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping during the APEC summit that will be held in Vietnam on Nov. 10 and 11.
This also appears to be the context for Moon’s remarks about “balanced diplomacy” while mentioning the need for strategic cooperation with China in order to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, even as he repeatedly emphasizes South Korea’s alliance with the US. “President Moon’s remarks about ‘balanced diplomacy’ express the principle of maximizing the national interest as a medium-sized country. While it may seem a little late in coming, this can be seen as an expression of President Moon’s foreign policy framework,” said Koo Kab-woo, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.
“The administration of former president Park Geun-hye also declared that trust and balance were the basic orientation for its foreign policy. Viewed from the perspective of the national interest, this is actually really obvious,” said Cho Seong-ryeol, chief of research for the Institute for National Security Strategy.
“During the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations, there was movement toward a military alliance between South Korea, the US and Japan both domestically and overseas, and the US has also been seen strongly pushing for the normalization of South Korea-Japan relations. That would lead to the formation of an adversarial alignment that harkens back to the Cold War between the southern countries of South Korea, the US and Japan and the northern countries of North Korea, China and Russia, which would inevitably make it even more difficult to solve the North Korean nuclear issue.”
In contrast, concerns have also been raised that Moon’s remarks were made just before his summit with Trump. “While [the US] understands South Korea’s position, agreeing with it is a different matter. There’s no way the US would like [talk of balanced diplomacy],” said Lee Geun, a professor at Seoul National University’s Graduate School of International Studies.
“There are a number of issues that could be a problem down the road. One is how we will respond if the US asks us to deploy another THAAD battery, and another is the fact that we have no choice but to join the US missile defense system on technical matters, including the control system,” said Kim Hyeon-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.
By Jung In-hwan, Seong Yeon-cheol, and Kim Ji-eun, staff reporters
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