Trump indicates he will invite S. Korea to G7 summit in Washington this September

Posted on : 2020-06-01 16:36 KST Modified on : 2020-06-01 16:51 KST
Seoul fears having to take sides in escalating US-China dispute
US President Donald Trump addresses reporters on a flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to Washington, DC, on May 30. (Yonhap News)
US President Donald Trump addresses reporters on a flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to Washington, DC, on May 30. (Yonhap News)

US President Donald’s Trump announcement of plans to invite South Korea to the G7 summit amid his deferment of the event until September is Seoul’s concerns. The fear is that South Korea’s participation could create a major burden for relations with Beijing if Washington attempts to use the G7 summit as an occasion for mustering a “united front against China” amid intensifying US-China friction.

Announcing plans to hold the G7 summit around September, Trump also indicated that he would be broadening the participation of allies in particular. Questioning the inclusiveness of the existing G7 as a “very outdated group of countries,” he indicated that he would be inviting four more: South Korea, Australia, Russia, and India.

As host nation for this year’s G7 summit, the US is allowed to invite non-G7 members. It remains uncertain whether Trump’s remarks referred to inviting South Korea and the other countries for an expanded meeting only for this year or to eliminating the existing G7 altogether and replacing it with a “G10” or “G11” summit framework. Trump’s description of the G7 framework as “outdated” and explicit references to a “G10 or G11” suggest a move to create a new framework to replace the G7.

For this reason, some are commenting that participation in the G7 this year could be a positive opportunity for South Korea as a G20 member, with the potential for it to increase its diplomatic and international stature as it actively uses the event for matters such as international cooperation on the novel coronavirus pandemic. A Blue House senior official said, “It doesn’t seem like there’s anything that would be particularly bad for us.”

While this is not the first time South Korea has been invited to a G7 summit, observers in the diplomatic community saw the move as definitely irregular. South Korea first participated in a G8 (G7+Russia) summit in 2008.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official said, “The US may invite South Korea as G7 host nation for this year, but we haven’t yet received any invitation or heard any explanation from the US.”

White House calls for allies to unite against China

The problem is that the suggestion came from the US at a time when its relationship with China has been becoming increasingly combative. Referring to the invitations of the additional four countries, White House Director of Strategic Communications Alyssa Farah explained that the US was calling together its traditional allies to discuss how to deal with China in the future. Her remarks made it clear that China-related issues would be discussed at the G7 summit. Washington has been effectively pressuring its allies to form a united front against China with its references to China’s “responsibility” for the coronavirus pandemic, security threats, and Hong Kong’s national security law. The latest invitation could also be read as an extension of this. This puts Seoul in an awkward position, as it hopes to avoid taking sides in the dispute between the US and China.

The US has already publicly spoken of having had “dialogue” with South Korea on the Economic Prosperity Network (EPN), a framework that would reorganize the global supply network to focus exclusively on US allies while leaving China out. Ahead of China’s vote on the Hong Kong national security law, the US has summoned diplomatic officials from South Korea and other allies to discuss the law’s issues and work toward establishing a united front against China. Beijing has countered with its own message effectively pressuring Seoul to show its support, announcing on May 26 that it had “shared the current situation with the Hong Kong security law with different parties, including the South Korean government.”

Seoul plans to be circumspect with its response. A Blue House senior official said, “Given the potential for conflict to arise with China, we plan to coordinate on that side of things while also pursuing discussions with the US.”

Park Won-gon, a professor of international and regional studies at Handong Global University, said the invitation was “clearly a continuation of the US’ ‘united front against China.’”

“If the discussion at the G7 becomes an overt attempt to exclude China, the South Korean government is going to need to raise issues with that and clearly point to the principle of a liberal international order,” Park advised.

By Hwang Joon-bum, Washington correspondent

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