Moon signs onto Trump Indo-Pacific Strategy

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Moon signs onto Trump Indo-Pacific Strategy

President Moon Jae-in on Sunday voiced support for U.S. President Donald Trump’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, saying it can work with his own New Southern Policy focusing on Southeast Asia.

“The Asia-Pacific region is a core region for maintaining peace and prosperity for both countries,” said Moon at the Blue House in a joint press conference alongside Trump following their bilateral summit on Sunday. “Under the regional cooperation principles of openness, inclusiveness and transparency, we have agreed to put forth harmonious cooperation between Korea’s New Southern Policy and the United States’ Indo-Pacific Strategy.”

Until now, Seoul has shown some ambiguity in expressing explicit support for the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Strategy, Washington’s policy toward the Asia-Pacific region, which has been seen as a policy trying to contain China.

The Trump administration introduced its ambiguous “free and open” Indo-Pacific strategy in 2017, replacing the Barack Obama administration’s policy of rebalancing or pivoting to the Asia-Pacific region and an apparent campaign to counter China’s One Belt, One Road initiative.

Japan, India and Australia have been a part of this security and economic partnership with the United States. But Korea has shied away from signing on, out of consideration of China.

In his first visit to Seoul as president in November 2017 for a summit with Moon, Trump highlighted that the United States and Korea remain “a linchpin for security, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific,” according to a joint press release.

At the time, Seoul was recovering from China’s economic retaliations for Korea’s deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system in 2017. Moon didn’t want to do anything to further alienate Beijing and his government didn’t sign immediately onto the Indo-Pacific Strategy.

The Moon administration announced its New Southern Policy in 2017, a vision of economic and diplomatic cooperation with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and India, as a means of diversifying Seoul’s relations and minimizing its reliance on a single country.

Korea could attempt to maintain some balance amid the ongoing power struggle between the United States and China, but analysts point out it won’t be easy. Washington may request that Seoul partake in multinational military exercises that could alienate China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping during bilateral talks last Thursday with Moon on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan raised the issue of Korea’s decision to allow the deployment of the U.S.-led Thaad antimissile system. Moon replied that the Thaad system was in place because of North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and that denuclearization must be achieved to resolve this.

The South China Morning Post on June 24 reported that the United States pressed Korea to send warships to the South China Sea in a protest against China’s expanding presence in the disputed waters citing a Korean diplomatic source, but that Seoul rejected the request.

The U.S. Department of Defense released in June its first “Indo-Pacific Strategy Report” which describes its policy of upholding “a free and open Indo-Pacific” in which all nations “are secure in their sovereignty and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules, norms, and principles of fair competition.” And Seoul is a part of this vision.

Patrick Shanahan, then acting U.S. secretary of defense, writes in the introduction that China “seeks to reorder the region to its advantage by leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce other nations.”

The report emphasizes Washington’s “commitment to stability and prosperity in the region through the pursuit of preparedness, partnerships and the promotion of a networked region.”

It has a separate section entitled: “The People’s Republic of China as a Revisionist Power,” that points out that China “undermines the international system from within by exploiting its benefits while simultaneously eroding the values and principles of the rules-based order.” It also points out that China continues to militarize the South China Sea.

The report states that a “trilateral partnership” between South Korea, Japan and the United States “is critical to peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region.”

It adds that the three countries share common goals, such as upholding a rules-based international order and “achieving the final fully-verified denuclearization of North Korea.”

The report in particular notes that a “trilateral defense partnership” between Korea, Japan and the United States, continues practical cooperation on United Nations Security Council resolution enforcement, information sharing and anti-submarine warfare.

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