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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 6)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:05 September 06, 2021

Double-edged sword
: Korea should be careful in joining Five Eyes alliance

The U.S. House Committee on Armed Services passed a defense authorization bill Thursday that would require the U.S. administration to consider expanding a five-way intelligence alliance to include South Korea and three other countries. If the bill gets approval from both the House and the Senate, it will be sent to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

The National Defense Authorization bill for fiscal year 2022 is drawing attention because of the envisaged expansion of the so-called Five Eyes, an intelligence-sharing agreement between the U.S., Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand. It proposes to expand intelligence sharing with South Korea, Japan, India and Germany.

If the bill becomes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for next year, the four countries will be invited to join the Five Eyes alliance which evolved during the Cold War as a mechanism for monitoring the now-defunct Soviet Union. As far as South Korea is concerned, such an invitation may mean that its international status has improved to keep abreast with the five mostly English-speaking members of the intelligence-sharing alliance.

Seoul has so far closely cooperate with Washington on military intelligence under seven decades of the bilateral alliance to cope with security threats from North Korea. South Korea's potential inclusion in the Five Eyes could provide opportunities for the country to have access to more extensive intelligence shared by the member states. It could also help strengthen its alliance and partnership with the U.S. and other countries.

Nevertheless, South Korea cannot be all smiles to welcome a possible invitation to the Five Eyes. The expansion of the intelligence-sharing alliance could be a double-edged sword. Such an expansion could be seen as part of U.S. efforts to stem the rise of China, as the Biden administration is stepping up an anti-China alliance amid the escalating great power rivalry.

In fact, the Biden administration wants South Korea to join the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, better known as the Quad comprised of the U.S., Japan, Australia and India. However, Seoul is reluctant to do so, fearing retaliation from China which sees the Quad as a coalition against Beijing.

President Biden is expected to focus more on rallying U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific region to tighten its noose around the neck of China after he completed the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan at the end of last month. Thus, South Korea will likely face more pressure to join the U.S.-led campaign against China. But Seoul needs to take a careful approach in order not to be caught in the crossfire between the two powers.

The Moon Jae-in administration should engage in active diplomacy to protect South Korea's national interests. It must enhance the country's alliance with the U.S. to ensure its security. At the same time, it should do all it can to maintain stable relations with China as our largest trading partner. South Korea also must go all-out to avoid a worst-case scenario in which it will be forced to choose sides.
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