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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 5)

All News 07:01 April 05, 2021

Keep diplomatic balance
New strategy needed to avoid US-China rivalry

China needs to play a more active role in denuclearizing North Korea and facilitating peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. The Asian giant is certainly the only country that can still exercise influence over the North on key issues. That's why Seoul is trying to enlist cooperation from Beijing to resume stalled denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington and push for President Moon Jae-in's peace process on the peninsula.

In this context, South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong's meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi had significant implications. After holding talks with Chung on Saturday, Wang said the two countries will seek a process for a "political" resolution of the Korean Peninsula issue through dialogue. And Chung stressed that both sides share the common goal of the "complete denuclearization" of the peninsula.

The two ministers' remarks may sound like diplomatic rhetoric. Yet they can serve as a catalyst for untying the Gordian knot. China, the sole benefactor of North Korea, can play a more constructive role in moving Pyongyang toward denuclearization and peace. It can also reduce -- to a certain degree -- growing tensions with the U.S. by working together with the Joe Biden administration in realizing the shared goal of making the North nuclear-free.

However, it is uncertain if both the U.S. and China are willing to collaborate with each other in global issues of common interest such as the North Korean nuclear issue. Given the escalating rivalry between the G2, the prospects for their cooperation are not bright. This is all the more so when Washington is doubling down on forming an anti-China alliance. Biden is trying to expand the informal Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, better known as the Quad comprising the U.S., Japan, Australia and India, to contain the rise of China.

Against this backdrop, South Korea is under increasing pressure to join the Quad. But the country is reluctant to do so because it is heavily dependent on the U.S. -- its traditional ally -- for security, while relying on China ― its largest trading partner ― for economic growth. It is imperative for Seoul to keep a balance between Washington and Beijing to avoid being caught in the crossfire. But it is tricky to walk a diplomatic tightrope.

Minister Chung's visit to China came after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited South Korea and Japan in mid-March to strengthen America's alliances and enhance cooperation with the two allies. It also came after the U.S. and China clashed head-on over thorny issues such as human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang during their high-level talks in Alaska. Chung's meeting with Wang was held right after the top security advisers of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan had a meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, to step up trilateral cooperation on issues such as threats from North Korea.

It appears that the U.S. and China are wooing South Korea to their respective sides amid the great power rivalry. Chung said last Wednesday that South Korea is not in a position to choose between the U.S. and China. Yet, we need a new strategy to prepare for when the rival powers force us to do that.

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