A linchpin and a thugLIM JONG-JU
The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
On May 30, Crew Dragon, the first private manned space mission in the United States, was launched. On the same day, another story broke: U.S. President Donald Trump hopes to invite countries, including Korea, to a G7 summit. The remarks by Trump stirred diplomatic circles. A high-level Korean official contacted their U.S. counterpart and things got awkward. The U.S. official cynically asked if the Korean official had really thought he would know if Trump would really invite Korea.
Two months later, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced a plan to remove 11,900 U.S. troops stationed in Germany, a third of U.S. forces there. It is a result of dissatisfaction that Germany did not kept the promise to increase its defense cost share to 2 percent of its GDP by 2024. A diplomatic source said that the German government did not know about it until the announcement. The United States had stabbed Germany in the back.
The former is a case of vain hopes on an impromptu proposal without procedural review or coordination. Actually, the G7 meeting has been postponed multiple times due to Covid-19 and it is still unclear whether it can convene within the year. The latter is a notable case illustrating Trump’s view on alliances as a relationship of financial extortion and willingness not to be a pushover.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden said America is back. That is a declaration to rebuild the damaged trust and value of alliance. He also wants to restore dignity and pride through multilateralism and cooperation instead of America First that has turned into isolationism. It was a show of his respect for the alliance to visit the Korean War Memorial on Veterans Day.
Congress moved as well. The House passed two resolutions reinforcing the Korea-U.S. alliance on the same day. They contain the significance of the alliance, recognition of Korean Americans’ contribution to the United States and a progressive plan to turn the alliance into a global partnership. Pending for nine months, the two resolutions were passed ahead of a new U.S. administration. These are green lights.
The second proclamation of Biden was a warning to China, targeting the regional comprehensive economic partnership (RCEP) agreement that China is working on. He wants to build a U.S.-led trade order with alliance against China. When he was a candidate, Biden did not hesitate to call Xi Jinping a “thug.” He also said the United States should be firm to prevent China from stealing U.S. technologies. He came up with “building a unified front among allies” as Foreign Affairs pointed out. It is unusual for Biden to stress in a phone call with President Moon Jae-in that Korea was a linchpin in the Indo-Pacific region.
Biden’s foreign policy appears to focus on reinforcing alliances and keeping China in check. As an inevitable reaction to his attempt to build an anti-China front, Beijing resisted. Korea’s fateful challenge is being repeated to choose a strategy that prioritizes survival, prosperity and national interests between the two countries.