Stuck in the middle again

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Stuck in the middle again

The government made it official. Korea will join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the Chinese equivalent of the Asian Development Bank. Seoul said it officially notified Beijing of its intention to participate in the foundation of the international financial institution. Seoul made the decision to take part in the new organization in spite of pressure from China, which has been persuading Korea to join, and the United States, which has been dissuading Korea from doing so. Though belated, we welcome the direction of the government.

The AIIB has been under intense media scrutiny as it heralds the emergence of a counterweight to the post-World War II, U.S.-led international financial order based on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Uncle Sam’s opposition to the alarming transition was predictable, given China’s dramatic rise as the world’s second largest economy and its ambition to create a mammoth bank to compete with the U.S.-led financial order in Asia. As it turns out, the United States has been stifling participation from Australia and Washington’s Asian allies, which include Korea.

We believe Korea’s agony between a staunch ally and the largest trading partner is unavoidable. Despite Chinese President Xi Jinping’s hopes at last year’s summit for Seoul to join the AIIB, President Park Geun-hye had reservations about it considering Korea’s traditional ties with Washington. But outside variables have greatly alleviated this issue - the proclamation of participation in the AIIB by Britain, Germany, France and Italy.

If Korea had expressed a desire to participate in this new financial institution earlier, we could have had practical advantages in its stakes and the number of Korean nationals in the higher echelons. Now that the government has decided to join the AIIB as a founding member, it must secure as much beneficial footing as possible through overtures with Beijing.

Korea relies on the United States for security and on China for its economy, which means Seoul has to be conscious of Washington and Beijing for military and economic reasons, respectively. Some pundits argue Korea must participate in the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system, as it decided to join the China-led AIIB. But that is not a question of quid pro quo. Security and the economy are two separate concerns. Supporting both Beijing on the AIIB issue and Washington on the Thaad issue is not right, as Korea’s national interests should be a priority.

JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 28, Page 26

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