(ATTN: ADDS more comments by foreign ministry official in paras 9-10; RESTRUCTURES; TRIMS)
By Kim Seung-yeon
SEOUL, May 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is "well aware" of the concerns being raised over heightening international tensions and is watching the situation very closely, its top diplomat said Thursday, apparently referring to the growing rift between the United States and China amid worries the conflict will pressure Seoul to take sides.
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha also said the government is doing everything it can to protect its citizens and national interests in the face of multiple challenges currently confronting the country.
"We are well aware of the concerns in relation to the heightening tensions in the international community and its repercussions," she said ahead of an interagency meeting held to discuss South Korea's approach to the growing rivalry between the two major powers.
"Our government has been thoroughly assessing its meaning and impact as we closely watch the situation," she said.
The meeting also attended by officials from other related ministries and state-affiliated think tanks came as tensions between Washington and Beijing have flared up recently amid the Trump administration's stepped-up anti-China campaign.
Washington has blamed the Asian rival for the spread of COVID-19 and warned of strong actions if it goes ahead with its push for controversial national security laws on Hong Kong, which is seen as being intended to tighten its control over the semi-autonomous territory.
Such fresh tensions have renewed worries about South Korea being pressured to walk a tightrope between the two major powers -- its ally and biggest trade partner.
"We've been doubling our efforts to make sure we protect our citizens and defend our national interests by comprehensively deliberating our responses," Kang said.
Lee Seong-ho, deputy foreign minister for economic affairs who attended the session, said South Korea's basic position is to protect the economy and industries from any harm that may be caused by the rift.
"Our bottom line is that we consistently stick to the principles in a way that would prevent as much as possible and minimize any negative effects on our economy and companies," he told reporters after the meeting.
Thursday's session also comes after U.S. Under Secretary of State Keith Krach revealed last week that the U.S. had already discussed with South Korea its "Economic Prosperity Network" initiative aimed at reducing dependence on China-centered global supply chains.
China has been busy defending its position to its foreign partners, including South Korea, in an apparent bid to seek their backing. Diplomatic sources say Beijing has shared information with Seoul on its push for the national security laws on Hong Kong.
Earlier at the session, Kang took note of increasing volatility in international relations as the global competition to gain an upper hand in cutting-edge technologies is getting fiercer and called for efforts to brace for new diplomatic challenges in the post-pandemic era.
"While individual countries' abilities and international cooperation to overcome the infectious disease have been put to the test, concerns are being raised about a zero-sum competition in which everyone seeks their own way," she said.
"We need concerted efforts for creative and active solutions to overcome the virus crisis and mutually restore economies reeling from the pandemic."
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