National interests drive Seoul, Washington apart

Nationwide pursuits drive Seoul, Washington aside

US Secretary of Protection Mark Esper meets with visiting South Korean Protection Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo on February 24, 2020. Picture: CNS

The 52nd US-Republic of Korea (ROK) Safety Consultative Assembly (SCM) was held in Washington on October 14. In contrast to previous SCM statements, the joint communique didn’t point out the US’ dedication to sustaining its troop ranges in South Korea for the primary time in 12 years. Following this, the Pentagon abruptly canceled a joint press convention that was presupposed to be held after the assembly — for unspecified causes.

In actual fact, Seoul and Washington have a protracted historical past of battle — particularly with protection issues. These tensions have been lengthy simmering, however have lately change into additional exacerbated. For instance, US troops sparked anger in South Korea after they fired fireworks and brawled within the streets of Busan on July 4. As well as, ongoing disputes over the wartime operational management switch have arisen as salient elements. 

On this context, the US is exerting strain on South Korea from all sides. Regardless of US President Donald Trump has raised protection spending, Washington is pushing Seoul to each spend extra for the US army presence and press again in opposition to Beijing – by making it select sides within the ongoing US-China imbroglio. 

So far as Washington is anxious, the US-Japan alliance and the US-South Korea alliance are foundational for the presence of the US within the Asia-Pacific.  In contrast to Tokyo which follows in Washington’s footsteps, Seoul is pursuing its personal autonomy with safety affairs. 

There are a number of examples of this going again over a decade. In late September, International Minister Kang Kyung-wha expressed a strikingly unfavorable response to the concept of becoming a member of a US-led Asia-Pacific alliance that goals to maintain a rising China in examine. Lately, Seoul additional articulated its refusal to affix the Washington-led drive in opposition to Huawei. All of those are indicators of South Korea’s battle for extra independence from American hegemonic manipulation. Certainly, this kind of pressure between Seoul and Washington will proceed for the foreseeable future. 

South Korea’s political and international coverage has all the time been based mostly on the US-South Korea alliance. This may occasionally not change it doesn’t matter what form of authorities is in energy in Seoul. Though the contradiction between South Korea and the US persists, it’s comprehensible that they’ve maintained regular relations general. Nonetheless, if Washington harms South Korea’s financial pursuits, Seoul won’t settle for it. In different phrases, it isn’t in South Korea’s nationwide pursuits to tie itself fully to the US chariot. 

China is South Korea’s largest buying and selling associate. South Korea won’t sacrifice its curiosity in commerce and tradition with China simply because the US claps its arms and tells Seoul to take action. 

The US’ so-called army alliances within the Asia-Pacific area have 5 fundamental branches. Along with Japan and South Korea, there are the Philippines, Australia and Thailand. Canberra and Tokyo have already sided with Washington. Bangkok emphasizes regional cooperation and unity in Southeast Asia and isn’t keen about militarily conflicts. 

Manila is one other matter, with common flip-flopping over its determination to terminate the Visiting Forces Settlement with Washington. Manila has reservations with Washington due to its financial interactions with China. 

With a view to create a mini-version of NATO in East Asia, Washington is apprehensive concerning the collapse of the so-called “Iron triangle system” it shares with Seoul and Tokyo. It due to this fact exerts repeated strain on Seoul, badgering it concerning the alliances and shared international coverage goals.  

Lee Soo-hyuck, the South Korean ambassador to the US, acknowledged that, “Simply because South Korea selected the US 70 years in the past doesn’t suggest it has to decide on the US for the following 70 years, too.” This poignant assertion was made throughout a digital look earlier than the South Korean parliament on October 12. This might be clearly construed as an indication that Seoul doesn’t wish to be too visibly tied to Washington’s chariot.

Since Trump took workplace, he has regarded his coverage towards the Korea Peninsula as a private diplomatic achievement. He views his coverage as signature ingredient of a legacy he hopes to forge — and doubtlessly enhance his reelection marketing campaign, based on The New York Occasions. 

Subsequently, the cooperation of South Korea has an ideal impression on the steadiness of energy of the US within the Asia-Pacific area. 

Underneath such circumstances, the core battle between the 2 sides has change into more and more obvious. Seoul is unwilling to change into a cannon fodder frontline within the US-China confrontation. 

Trump has tried to play the Korean Peninsula card to realize reelection benefit. However he has been unable to take action. If he stays in energy, he’ll use carrots and sticks. Nonetheless, if the Democratic Occasion comes into energy, then strain on Seoul to hold out Washington’s present aggressive insurance policies will probably be decreased.   

The writer is a analysis fellow on the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences.

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