The top security officials of South Korea, Japan and the U.S. met in Washington on Saturday even as the foreign ministers of South Korea and China met in the Chinese city of Xiamen. The trilateral meeting was widely expected after the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden, who has stressed greater cooperation with Washington’s allies. China knew this, and it was no coincidence that the two meetings were scheduled on the same day. There was of course no equivalent meeting between China and Japan — in other words, China regards South Korea as the weakest link among the U.S.’ Asian allies.
Shortly after meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong again urged Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Seoul. The government here is obsessed with the visit, which it for some strange reason believes will turn all its fortunes around, and has been begging Xi to come for four years. But China’s Foreign Ministry made absolutely no mention of such a visit in a briefing afterwards. Instead, Wang said South Korea and China have already become “economically indispensable” to each other and proposed strengthened cooperation in 5G communications, artificial intelligence and semiconductor technologies. Chung and Wang also agreed to hold a “2+2” meeting of their foreign and defense ministers, just like the one Seoul holds with Washington.
The Moon Jae-in administration has bent over backwards to do whatever Beijing wants. Ahead of his trip to China back in 2017, Moon agreed not to let the U.S. deploy additional Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense batteries here, not to participate in the U.S.-led missile defense network and not to establish a formal trilateral military bloc with the U.S. and Japan. These “three no’s” were tantamount to relinquishing South Korea’s military sovereignty. Moon also kept his mouth shut when China claimed that its invasion of Korean territory during the 1950-53 Korean War was aimed at “upholding peace,” and he did not say a word about China’s incessant incursions into Korea’s exclusive economic zone in the West Sea. Moon also remained silent when Beijing cracked down on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and instead spoke on the telephone with Xi before he called Biden and hailed China’s “ever-expanding influence.” China does not respect a lickspittle.
Korea cannot afford to choose sides too aggressively, but some kind of decorum must be upheld. How was South Korea able to rise from the ashes of the Korean War and achieve an economic miracle over the last 70 years? Only because of the strong U.S.-Korea alliance. In contrast, Korea suffered huge economic losses due to China’s growing influence and its unofficial boycott due to the THAAD deployment. On the other side of the Pacific, Suh called pitifully for early resumption of U.S.-North Korea dialogue, another of the government’s magic bullets, but the White House did not even mention dialogue with Pyongyang. Instead, it merely called for “full implementation” of UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea. Suh apparently called for a U.S.-South Korea summit but could not even get an approximate date. So now the government faces just the same pressure it always did from the U.S. and China, or possibly worse.
Last year, the Korean ambassador to the U.S. even said South Korea “can choose sides” between Washington and Beijing. But it can do no such thing, and Moon’s desperate pursuit of U.S.-North Korea dialogue and a visit to Seoul by the Chinese president were completely ignored. In the meantime, North Korea continues to bolster its nuclear arsenal. The government has only itself to blame.
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