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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 8)

All News 07:36 September 08, 2020

Nature of alliance

Longstanding alliance with US should deepen

Unification Minister Lee In-young's comment that Korea's longstanding alliance with the United States could turn into a "peace alliance" is under scrutiny. Lee mentioned in his meeting with the National Council of Churches in Korea last week that the relationship between South Korea and the United States, at a certain point, could move beyond the "military and Cold-War alliance" toward a "peace alliance."

The statement appears to be a forward-looking, if idealistic, rhetorical vision. At further glance, however, what he said allows for a multitude of interpretations that may well hinder Seoul's relationship with Washington, while aligning it closer to Beijing and Pyongyang.

As South Korea's top trading partners and parties to the denuclearization talks with North Korea, the United States and China have always been vital, and ever more so of now.

As an insider in President Moon Jae-in's government, the minister surely is cognizant of the tests the relations have endured. The relationship with China has been testy over Seoul's agreement to the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system. Meanwhile ties with the United States have been topsy-turvy, mainly as talks on defense cost-sharing remain stalled.

The sharpening economic and hegemonic rivalry between the two is subtly playing out on the Korean Peninsula. Senior Chinese official Yang Jiechi visited South Korea in August and met with National Security Adviser Suh Hoon, after which the two agreed that Chinese President Xi Jinping would visit Seoul as soon as possible after the COVID-19 pandemic dies down.

For its part, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week urged Korea and other U.S. allies such as India, Australia and Japan to join U.S. efforts to tackle "economic and political aggression" from China. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun has also expressed the hope that Korea will join the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Initiative.

This is not the first time the unification's minister's comments have been scrutinized. In an August meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Korea Harry Harris, Lee proposed that a South Korea-U.S. working group be revamped to facilitate improvements in inter-Korean relations and the establishment of peace.

As chief of the ministry dealing with North Korea, we can argue Lee is attending to the task of engagement with Pyongyang. Yet his critics found echoes of the 1980s student movement that aligned with claims by China and North Korea made in the "military, Cold-War alliance" and "peace alliance" comments.

The minister carries weight in the Moon administration. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha aptly summed up the challenge facing Korea recently in a forum ― heightened tension between the superpowers. Seoul is working to "strengthen multilateralism and expand cooperation for peace and co-prosperity," she said. We hope this is a consensus shared by all Cabinet members.

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