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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on May 24)

All News 07:04 May 24, 2023

Managing the China risk

President Yoon Suk Yeol's tight diplomatic schedule has just ended. Following his summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in March and the summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in April in Washington to mark the 70th year of the alliance, Yoon had yet another summit with Kishida in Seoul in May and a trilateral summit with Biden and Kishida on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Hiroshima last week. Yoon also had summits with leaders of Germany, the UK, Australia, Canada and the EU. It is time to review the results of a chain of the summits and draw a big picture for Korea's future.

Yoon's diplomacy has been mostly focused on restoring the alliance and Korea-Japan relations to strengthen national security amid escalated nuclear threats from North Korea. Seoul, Washington and Tokyo have reached the level of sharing information on North Korean missiles in real time. Another Korea-U.S.-Japan summit is scheduled for as early as July in Washington. Yoon may have reinforced security cooperation with the U.S. and Japan more than expected.

But if Korea excessively leans toward one side amid a hegemony battle between liberal and authoritarian systems, it must risk ramifications. Value-based diplomacy is meaningful, but the best diplomacy is to maximize national interests. That's why the G7 leaders defined it as a "derisking" — not "decoupling" — strategy in their joint statement after the summit.

South Korea must pay close attention to a preemptive move by the U.S. and Japan in dealing with China. U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had a long conversation with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Vienna for two days to address their ongoing disputes in a constructive way. The U.S.-proposed meeting shows flexibility of the superpower even during a heated war.

Japan forward-deployed missiles in the waters close to China to brace for possible contingency. Yet Tokyo has extended a hand to Beijing for high-level talks. Encouraged by the rise of his approval rating by 9 percentage points after his successful staging of the G7 summit, Kishida said in a press conference that he does not rule out the possibility of a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. News reports say the two countries are gearing up for their defense ministers' meeting early next month.

Since taking office last year, President Yoon has been engrossed with consolidating the alliance and made considerable progress. Now he must review them. Riding the anti-Chinese sentiment and provoking Beijing does not help Korea. It could be a good idea to propose dialogue preemptively before it is too late. We urge Yoon to consider a proposal of a Korea-China summit or a Korea-China-Japan summit, with Korea as the chair country this time.

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