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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on May 20)

National 06:57 May 20, 2022

From security to economy and technology

President Yoon Suk-yeol will hold his first summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in Seoul on Saturday, raising hopes of a new era of alliance between the two countries. The two leaders are committed to developing the bilateral security alliance into a comprehensive strategic alliance for economy and technology.

The crucial summit comes amid mounting geopolitical challenges, including the growing security threats from North Korea, the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine, and the escalating great power rivalry between the U.S. and China. All these negative factors have made both Seoul and Washington feel the urgent need to upgrade their alliance to ensure peace, stability and prosperity in the region.

Most of all, Yoon and Biden should work out measures to reinforce extended deterrence against North Korea's possible nuclear attacks. Pyongyang has continued to launch ballistic missiles, including ICBMs. It is also reportedly ready to resume its seventh nuclear test, despite the rapid spread of COVID-19 infections. The two leaders need to take substantive steps to prod North Korea to move toward denuclearization as well as provide humanitarian aid to help the North fight the coronavirus.

The highlight of the summit will be Yoon's official announcement of Seoul's decision to join the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), a new initiative to counter China's growing influence. Korea's participation will give a boost to Biden's much avowed efforts to create its own global supply chains to alienate China from the global economic and trade network.

South Korea is expected to benefit greatly from its IPEF membership. It can pave the way for a technology alliance that will enable the country to make another economic takeoff. The IPEF is designed to step up cooperation in trade, infrastructure, supply chains and technology with the U.S.' allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region. Biden is scheduled to announce the launch of the IPEF during the summit meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, better known as Quad, to be held in Japan on May 23 to 24.

Yet, Korea's presence in the IPEF not only raises opportunities, but also challenges to the nation. It means that the country's policy of relying on the U.S. for security and depending on China for economic growth may not be tenable anymore. Seoul has so far maintained "strategic ambiguity" in order to avoid taking sides amid the strategic competition between Washington and Beijing.

In this context, it is inevitable for Korea to join the U.S. economic initiative to ensure its security and maximize its national interests. Seoul has begun to realize that it is getting more difficult to do a balancing act between the G2 powers. It can be said that the country has taken a realistic approach amid the emerging new Cold War between the U.S.-led coalition and the grouping of China, Russia and North Korea.

However, there are growing concerns that China could take retaliatory action against South Korea for joining the anti-China economic alliance. The closer Seoul moves toward Washington, the greater the backlash it will face from China. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi apparently protested the Korean move in video talks with his South Korean counterpart Park Jin on Tuesday. He stressed the need for Seoul and Beijing to oppose their possible "decoupling" and maintain the global supply chains stably.

Therefore, the Yoon administration should make strenuous efforts to explain our positions clearly and persuade Beijing to keep cooperative economic and trade ties with Seoul. The government needs to do everything it can to avoid China's possible retaliations as seen in the U.S. deployment of its THAAD anti-missile battery on Korean soil. It also must ensure Beijing that Korea's tilt toward America will not hut China's core interests. This is a difficult test for President Yoon who has vowed to strengthen the Korea-U.S. alliance.
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