South Korean National Security Advisor Suh Hoon, right, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, center, and Japanese National Security Secretariat Secretary General Shigeru Kitamura walk together during their Friday meeting at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. (provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
This past weekend, two separate meetings were held between the national security chiefs of South Korea, the US and Japan and between the foreign ministers of South Korea and China. These two diplomatic happenings illustrate both the successes and the challenges of South Korea's "balanced diplomacy" amid the conflict between the US and China.
National security advisors from South Korea, the US and Japan met Friday in Washington to discuss North Korea policy. In a press conference after the meeting, Blue House National Security Director Suh Hoon said, "South Korea, the US and Japan agreed on the urgency of the North Korean nuclear issue and the need for a diplomatic solution. We also agreed to keep working on quickly resuming negotiations between North Korea and the US."
In a bilateral meeting with White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Suh emphasized that the Biden administration needs to engage in denuclearization talks with North Korea quickly and that improved inter-Korean relations would aid North Korea-US dialogue.
South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the South Korean and Chinese foreign ministers, who met in Xiamen, in China's Fujian Province, on Saturday, had affirmed the shared goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and establishing permanent peace there.
The South Korean government's attempt to focus its foreign policy on North Korea's denuclearization and to avoid leaning toward either side amid the sharp conflict between the US and China appears to have gone smoothly for now, but the key question is the extent to which South Korea's position will be actually reflected in the US's North Korea policy.
The statement released by the White House following the meeting of national security advisors from South Korea, the US and Japan emphasized cooperation between the three countries on responding to North Korea and the complete implementation of UN Security Council resolutions against the North.
Considerable obstacles remain, including the need to mediate the conflicting positions of the South Korean government, which wants to quickly resume negotiations between North Korea and the US, and Japan, which stresses pressure on North Korea.
A high-ranking official in the Biden administration said Thursday that the US understands the Singapore Agreement's importance. If the Biden administration were to publicly express its respect for the joint statement that the US and North Korea announced in Singapore in 2018, it could send a powerful signal to Pyongyang.
The South Korean government needs to keep trying to find a way to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through US-China relations and to gain a stronger say on the matter. Fortunately, the US and China are willing to cooperate on the North Korean nuclear issue, but there's still a long way to go.
The US will keep trying to use the North Korean nuclear issue as leverage to reinforce its encirclement of China, while China will try to play the North Korean card to convince South Korea to undermine the US's encirclement.
Along with making room for cooperation with both the US and China, the South Korean government needs to stay on guard and work out a strategy for responding to rapid change in international affairs as it goes about cautiously addressing foreign policy issues such as the North Korean nuclear issue.
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