Adroit diplomacy called forThe dark clouds of a new Cold War are hanging over Korea as Sino-U.S. tensions are deepening. If a new Cold War becomes a reality, the Korean Peninsula will most likely turn into a front line of the confrontation. What happened over the last few days succinctly points to that very possibility in the near future.
U.S. President Donald Trump expressed an intention to invite South Korea, Russia, India and Australia to a G7 Summit scheduled for September. We welcome his proposal to bring Korea into the exclusive club of advanced economies, as it would offer an opportunity for Korea to have a say befitting its economic power as well as a precious chance to protect its national interest on the global stage.
A stumbling block is China. Trump’s unexpected invitation of Korea to the summit reflects his administration’s determination to establish a new global order to counter China’s rising power around the globe. Beijing will certainly perceive the move as an attempt to contain China. Beijing will express strong dissatisfaction about Seoul’s participation in the summit. But the Moon Jae-in administration does not have to dismiss the rare invitation as it could serve a litmus test for the G7 to be expanded into a G11.
Korea needs to emphasize its role as the 12th largest economy in the world. Even if a containment policy toward China was discussed in the expanded summit, Beijing can hardly oppose Seoul’s participation as long as the Moon administration makes clear a determination to safeguard its national interests as a sovereign state. Korea joined in the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in 2015 despite opposition from the United States after putting a top priority on its national interests.
The same response based on principle is needed to deal with China’s disgruntlement over the recent upgrade of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system in Korea. After deciding to deploy the Thaad system in Seongju, North Gyeongsang, Seoul immediately made it clear that the missiles were meant to defend itself — not infringing on China’s security.
If the United States takes a follow-up action after China’s passage of the revised Hong Kong Security Law, the U.S.-China friction will be further exacerbated. Despite the expected narrowing of our maneuverability in the process, Korea has no other choice but to weather a crisis based on our best strategic judgment. The government may need to exercise strategic ambiguity, if necessary, yet it should be based on firm principles.
The Moon administration must build trust with China without hurting the decades-old alliance with Uncle Sam. It must explain and seek the understanding of China and America on a case by case whenever the need arises. Practical diplomacy for our national interests is the key to addressing the challenge.