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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 17)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:03 January 17, 2023

Toughening security front

President Yoon Suk Yeol, now on a state visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), appears elated by the UAE's pledge to invest $30 billion in Korea. The two countries also agreed to boost bilateral ties in the areas of energy, construction and health. Yoon also plans to focus on economic issues during his planned visit to Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum (WTF), often referred to as the Davos Forum.

Despite the significant economic issues at play, Yoon is also burdened with a growing and toughened security environment surrounding the Korean Peninsula. For starters, North Korea is bent on building up its nuclear capabilities while showing no intention to return to dialogue. The United States, fresh from the end of the midterm elections, and China, now under the fortified grip of President Xi Jinping, are flexing their muscles in order to maintain the upper hand against each other.

In response, South Korea has been eager to beef up its prowess as a global middle power state. With this aim in mind, it has been focusing on strengthening its alliance with the U.S. and Japan in a bid to effectively counter the numerous threats from North Korea. The security situation in East Asia and on the peninsula is vital, but hasn't always been favorable to the Republic of Korea.

For one thing, Japan has been desperate to solidify ties with the U.S. after declaring its plans to be equipped with "counteroffensive capabilities" by discarding the principle of pacifism which it had kept since its defeat in World War II. The two nations held a series of meetings among top security-related officials, including a summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida between Jan. 11 and 13 in Washington D.C.

The two sides agreed to realign the U.S. forces stationed in Japan in preparation for a possible invasion of Taiwan by China and expand the scope of the military alliance into space. Ahead of the summit, Kishida managed to expand the range of military cooperation through his visit to G-7 member states. Tokyo, for instance, signed a contract for mutual dispatches of troops with the United Kingdom.

Rather worrisome, however, is the possibility that Japan's move toward rearmament, due to increasing threats from North Korea and China, might prompt the neighboring country to engage in possible conflicts on the peninsula. Or additionally, it could nudge South Korea into getting involved in potential military confrontations in Taiwan.

Despite this, South Korea and the United States have shown signs of a crack developing, regarding Yoon's recent statement indicating the need for Seoul to possess nuclear weapons as a deterrence against the North's nuclear threats. The Defense Department's Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder expressed opposition to any move toward possible nuclear armament. "Our policy continues to remain focused on the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," he said during a press briefing Thursday.

Worse still, Beijing irritated Seoul and Tokyo due to its suspension of short-term visas for their respective nationals, from among the 20 countries which have recently fortified quarantine measures for travelers arriving from China. Yet, it has offered favorable policies to the U.S., normalizing flights between the two countries. For Australia, China has lifted the import embargo on coal. Against this backdrop, experts say that China was cynically attempting to drive a wedge between countries on the opposite side.

Such situations explain well the complexity of the reality faced by South Korea. This means the three allies ― South Korea, the U.S. and Japan ― do not exactly share the same interests when it comes to sensitive security issues such as North Korea's nuclear threats, relations with China and historical issues. It is time for foreign affairs and security authorities to extract the utmost amount of wisdom so that the Yoon administration can cope well with the ever-toughening situation on and around the peninsula.

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