Are we prepared?The conflict between the United States and China has re-escalated to the point of U.S. President Donald Trump threatening to cut bilateral ties. The fiery blame game over the origin of a deadly virus implies another wave of wrestling over hegemony in the global order and economy after the coronavirus crisis dies down.
The standoff between the world’s two biggest economies and trade partners will pose more of a challenge for Korea. The repercussions in the economy will be big. Trump has threatened stronger offensive against China claiming trade deals won’t compensate for the damage caused by the “plague from China.” The United States envisions redesigning the global supply chain by excluding China.
This would exacerbate Korea whose economy relies nearly 30 percent on trade with China with intricately interconnected business ties. Unlike the United States seeking decoupling with China, Korea’s dependence on its neighbor and the world’s second largest economy has only increased.
Korea’s foreign policy will face a greater dilemma. Seoul may face pressure from Washington and Beijing to take a side in their contest. The sudden phone call from Chinese President Xi Jinping to President Moon Jae-in last week could be part of Beijing’s move to pull Seoul to its side. Xi asked Seoul to keep in line with its stance over the role of the World Health Organization (WHO) after the United States invited Taiwan to the WHO assembly and asked its allies to back its move.
Seoul must avoid the awkward situation of having to take one side. It must not think it can capitalize on the situation. Beijing had cozied up to Seoul amid the talk of deploying U.S.-led antimissile system Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, and later slapped retaliatory actions when the installation took place in spite of its opposition.
Seoul must reaffirm its principles and goals in foreign affairs and take a pragmatic approach. Korea must sustain mutual trust with the United States to safeguard the alliance and at the same time keep up cooperation with China. We must clearly draw the line on what we can and cannot do and persuade the other parties.
We must be thoroughly ready for the new post-Covid-19 order.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 18, Page 30