Time to hit the reset buttonEven as President Donald Trump threatens legal challenges on “illegal ballots” and recounting, he eventually will have to leave the White House to the new host from the Democratic Party. If Joe Biden is confirmed as the 46th U.S. president, Washington is expected to go back to its traditional role of upholding free trade order and multilateralism instead of unilateralism and protectionism under the “America First” slogan of Trump. International politics could become more predictable if the U.S. authority system becomes “bottom-up” instead of “top-down,” where state and foreign affairs hinge on the orders and whims of the U.S. president.
Biden is a veteran in foreign affairs, having served 12 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his 36-year career as a senator. He upholds alliances and multi-government agreements. He is committed to traditional South Korea-U.S. alliance and the tripartite coalition of Korea, Japan and the United States.
Biden is expected to keep to the conservative approach of pursuing dialogue and sanctions based on alliance between Washington and Seoul on the North Korea nuclear issue. During a TV debate, he criticized Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by addressing the North Korean leader a “thug.” He said he won’t meet with Kim unless he is sure of a North Korean scale-back in nuclear capacity. The sight of a cozy relationship between the United States and North Korea leader won’t likely be repeated.
Biden too is staunchly hostile toward China. He would likely keep up conflict with Beijing on issues ranging from the South China Sea territories to human rights. In his addresses and writings, Biden emphasized the cooperation of allies in China. When he visited Seoul as the vice president, he advised Seoul to join the Washington front on Beijing, saying it was not a good bet to stand on the opposite side from the United States.
The change in the Oval Office calls for serious reexamination in President Moon Jae-in’s North Korea and China policies. Under Moon, Seoul has been all-understanding of Pyongyang and submissive to Beijing. South Korea must revive its traditional U.S. alliance by renewing regular joint military drills and recommitting to the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement approach on North Korean nuclear programs. Instead of taking a fence-sitting approach by avoiding taking a specific side in the U.S.-China fight, South Korea must become more strategic to defend national rights and interests and seek breakthrough in the stalemated relationship with Japan.
If Moon keeps to existing policies, Biden may shun him and Korean Peninsula affairs. South Korea could be bundled with North Korea for “strategic patience” from Washington. Time is not on Moon’s side as he has less than a year and half left in his term.