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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 4)

All News 07:02 July 04, 2022

Need for pragmatic diplomacy
: Korea should try to keep close ties with China

President Yoon Suk-yeol made a successful diplomatic debut at the NATO summit last week by opening the way for security cooperation with the transatlantic alliance. He also made a pitch for economic collaboration with NATO members in such fields as semiconductors, electric vehicle batteries and nuclear power plants.

Yoon's push for a new global partnership with NATO was well reflected in his speech at the summit: "Freedom and peace are guaranteed through solidarity with the international community." He added, "I hope the cooperative relationship between South Korea and NATO will become a cornerstone for such solidarity."

It seems inevitable for South Korea to work with the U.S.-led regional alliance so as to better cope with the rapidly changing international order and emerging security threats. It is all the more so when the country is faced with North Korea's escalating nuclear and missile threats. So it is a step in the right direction for Seoul to strengthen its "value-based solidarity" with the 30 NATO member nations in pursuit of universal values such as democracy and human rights.

However, Yoon's attendance in the summit has raised concerns that South Korea may hurt its ties with China. Beijing is strongly against NATO's move to expand its role beyond the North Atlantic region to the Asia-Pacific region. The Chinese foreign ministry denounced NATO for adopting its new strategic concept that defined China as posing "systemic challenges" to global stability. NATO also labeled Russia a "direct threat" to the security of their nations amid its protracted war in Ukraine.

China appears to believe that Seoul is moving toward the U.S.-led international coalition against the Asian giant. It has already expressed opposition to Korea's tilt toward the U.S. amid the intensifying great power rivalry. In this situation, no one can rule out the possibility of Beijing taking retaliatory measures against Seoul as seen in the U.S. deployment of a THAAD anti-missile battery on Korean soil in 2017.

That's why the Yoon administration should adopt pragmatic diplomacy to maintain close ties with China and maximize Korea's national interests. Seoul should not give the impression that it is taking an anti-China stance. On Saturday, Foreign Minister Park Jin said Yoon's participation in the NATO summit does not target China. Yoon should clearly explain that Seoul wants to keep strategic partnership with Beijing. The government needs to make all-out efforts to avoid unnecessary conflicts with China, South Korea's largest trading partner.

It is getting more difficult for Seoul to strike a balance between Washington and Beijing. This is putting Yoon to the diplomatic test. A new Cold War between Western democracies and autocratic countries, such as China and Russia, is emerging rapidly. And Korea is under greater pressure to join the U.S.-led effort to contain China's growing regional and global influence. Under this circumstance, it is necessary to pursue principled diplomacy in order to ensure Korea's security. It is equally important to pursue pragmatic diplomacy to protect Korea's national interests.

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