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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on May 17)

All News 06:51 May 17, 2022

Joining US-led initiative
IPEF membership should not sour Korea-China ties

President Yoon Suk-yeol said Monday he will discuss the issue of the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) initiative during his planned summit with U.S. President Joe Biden on May 21. "We will focus on ways to strengthen global supply channels through the IPEF," Yoon said in his first budget speech at the National Assembly. He said the discussion will cover diverse topics such as the digital economy, carbon neutrality and economic security.

The Biden administration unveiled the IPEF initiative during the East Asia Summit (EAS) last October as a regional device encompassing major Indo-Pacific countries, asking relevant countries ― Japan, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand ― to join. Yoon's transition team has also positively considered the nation joining it.

The IPEF, mainly designed to contain China's growing influence, is expected to set sail sometime this month possibly during the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) summit in Japan slated for May 23 and 24. Proponents stress the need for the nation to join the IPEF from the beginning to participate in the process of mapping out new global standards pertinent to trade, infrastructure and supply channels.

They say this will help the nascent Yoon administration strengthen much-needed economic security and gain more momentum for its stable state administration. Russia's ongoing war on Ukraine reawakened the significance of the alliance with the U.S., prompting its allies to be united under values such as the rule of law, human rights and democracy.

What is worrisome is that the launch of the IPEF can bring about a tectonic "undesirable" change and possible economic instability in the Indo-Pacific region. The envisioned bloc will likely nudge China to seek strong economic retaliatory measures, thus disrupting regional supply channels.

Should the U.S. attempt to weaken the incumbent Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) comprised of 15 Asia-Pacific nations including China, with the onset of the IPEF, it will adversely affect the member countries, possibly destabilizing the regional economy. Wary of Korea's possible entry into the IPEF, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan stated in his May 10 meeting with Yoon, "The complementariness of Korean and Chinese economies is strong with huge potential for mutual benefits."

Wang also said the industrial supply channels between the two countries are tightly interconnected and should not be undermined. His remark appears to be a warning against Korea joining the U.S.-led framework. Seoul has been trying to assuage Beijing's concern regarding the matter.

Foreign Minister Park Jin said in a press conference Sunday, "The IPEF is not targeting a certain nation. So there is no reason for concern about a possible conflict of interest regarding China." Park's statement shows how serious a dilemma Korea faces in dealing with the issue. Now is the time for the Yoon administration to make a wise decision over the issue in consideration of relations with the U.S. and China.

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