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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 5)

Diplomacy 07:00 August 05, 2022

Revealing Korea's dilemma
Better alliance should not hurt ties with China

U.S. House Speaker Nany Pelosi's visit to South Korea was a rare opportunity for the two countries to deepen their alliance and partnership. On Thursday, the last day of her two-day stay here, she and National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo agreed to support the allies' efforts to expand the alliance from defense and security into economy and technology.

The agreement is in line with a commitment made by President Yoon Suk-yeol and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden during their summit in Seoul in May that Seoul and Washington will turn the alliance into a comprehensive strategic partnership. It reflects the two countries' move to defend freedom and democracy.

It is also meaningful that the two speakers agreed to help Seoul and Washington to achieve the denuclearization of North Korea. The Yoon administration needs support from the U.S. and its allies in prodding the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program, especially when the Kim Jong-un regime is ready to conduct a seventh nuclear test. Pelosi stressed the importance of international cooperation and diplomatic efforts to achieve that goal.

She came here after her visit to Taiwan which heightened tensions with China. Beijing responded with a show of force, denouncing her visit to the island, which it claims as its territory, of violating the "one China" principle. The Chinese Air Force flew 21 war planes toward Taiwan on Tuesday in protest.

However, Pelosi made it clear that the U.S. would not abandon Taiwan. After meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, Pelosi said, "America's determination to preserve democracy, here in Taiwan and around the world, remains ironclad." Her visit, however, has contributed to escalating the great power rivalry between the U.S. and China.

For this reason, many people expressed concerns that her visit could make it more difficult for South Korea to strike a balance between the U.S. and China. South Korea has long relied on America, the country's traditional ally, for security. On the other hand, it has been dependent on China, its largest trading partner, for economic growth.

However, the growing Sino-U.S. strategic competition is increasingly forcing Seoul to choose between Washington and Beijing. The conservative Yoon administration has opted for the strengthened alliance with the U.S. to ensure peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. This, however, raised concerns among Chinese officials that South Korea might join the U.S.-led international coalition against China.

Pelosi's Asian tour and the resultant escalation of the Sino-U.S. conflict are also posing a dilemma for Korea. The closer South Korea moves to the U.S., the more pressure it may face from Beijing not to join the anti-China coalition. This will leave little room for Seoul to maneuver diplomatically.

That's why the Yoon administration should engage in careful and prudent diplomacy to maintain good relations with China, to which one-fourth of Korea's exports go. At the same time, the government must make strenuous efforts to stick to "principled" diplomacy so it will not be swayed by the emerging new Cold War between U.S.-led Western democracies and autocracies such as China, Russia and North Korea. We hope South Korea can avoid being caught in the crossfire of the Sino-U.S. confrontation.
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