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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on May 23)

All News 07:04 May 23, 2022

Broadening alliance
Allies vie for economic, technology partnership

President Yoon Suk-yeol and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden have committed to expanding the two countries' military alliance into a "global comprehensive strategic alliance" to deepen their cooperation in economy and technology. This new meaning of an alliance is set to open a new horizon in bilateral relations to ensure peace, stability and prosperity not only on the Korean Peninsula and in East Asia, but also across the globe.

In this sense, the two leaders' first summit, held in Seoul on Saturday, was considered to have produced successful results. They deserve credit for going beyond the security alliance to cover everything from strategic goods ― such as semiconductors and batteries ― to a united front to respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden started his three-day visit to South Korea by visiting Samsung Electronics' semiconductor factory in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul. It is unusual for any U.S. president to go to such a factory first before visiting major U.S. military bases here. He also wrapped up his stay by meeting with Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Euisun.

All these show how important it is for him to attract investments from Korean firms and step up technology cooperation with Asia's fourth-largest economy. He thanked Samsung for investing $17 billion in building a chip-making plant in Texas. He also received a promise from Hyundai to invest $5 billion in the U.S. for robotics and autonomous driving software development, in addition to a $5.54-billion investment to build an electric vehicle and car battery factory in Georgia.

The Yoon-Biden summit reflected the two allies' growing need for upgrading their traditional security alliance into an all-encompassing partnership aimed at forging an economic and technological alliance. It also meant that Seoul has decided to join Washington's drive to set up its own global supply chains as part of efforts to contain a more assertive China. That's why the Yoon administration needs to work out measures to deal with a possible backlash from China.

It is also worth noting Yoon's formal announcement of Seoul's participation in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), an initiative proposed by Biden to enhance supply chain resilience, set the rules of the digital economy and increase investments in clean energy and infrastructure. Biden is expected to formerly launch the IPEF during the summit meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) to be held early this week in Japan.

South Korea is certain to benefit from its membership in the IPEF greatly. However, the problem is how to avoid any potential retaliation from China, which is strongly against the creation of the U.S.-led IPEF. Beijing has already expressed concerns about Biden's new economic initiative, arguing that it is aimed at excluding China from global supply chains amid the escalating great power rivalry between the two countries.

Korea's participation in the IPEF also implies that the country's policy of relying on the U.S. for security and depending on China for economic growth can no longer hold water. Yoon and Biden stressed in their joint statement that the IPEF is being pushed based on openness, transparency and inclusiveness. But, the Chinese government sees the IPEF as a U.S. bid to counter the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free trade agreement among Asia-Pacific nations including Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Singapore.

The Yoon government, for its part, must try to ease China's concerns, because the world's second-largest economy is our largest trading partner which accounts for one-fourth of Korea's exports. This is easier said than done. It is getting more difficult to strike a balance between the U.S. and China. Yet, it is necessary to do our best to avoid any fallout from the mounting Sino-U.S. strategic competition and maximize our national interests.

Yoon and Biden also agreed to begin discussions on expanding joint military exercises between Seoul and Washington, reaffirming extended deterrence against North Korea's increasing military threats, including its possible nuclear attacks. It is important for the allies to improve their joint preparedness, while opening the door to dialogue with Pyongyang. Both sides should make concerted efforts to achieve their goal of realizing a global comprehensive strategic alliance.

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