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Major diplomatic events that could have a huge impact on security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia take place this week. Following the first virtual Quad summit among the United States, Japan, Australia and India over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Japan and South Korea this week. On Thursday, Blinken meets with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi — former foreign minister and current Politburo member handling China’s diplomacy — in Alaska. Such events will reflect the direction of the new U.S. administration’s foreign policy.
What attracts our attention in a joint statement issued after the Quad summit is the member countries’ reaffirmation of their goal to achieve the complete denuclearization of North Korea. That perspective will be reflected in the soon-to-come results of Washington’s review of its North Korea policy. A diverse group of bureaucrats and civilians with expertise in North Korean affairs took part in the review. But one thing that is clear is that the Biden administration will not strike a half-baked deal with North Korea on denuclearization. In other words, the U.S. government will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state or start arms reduction talks based on tacit approval of the North’s nuclear status.
A simultaneous trip to Seoul by the two U.S. secretaries on Wednesday will provide the last opportunity for both countries to coordinate on denuclearization before the Biden administration finalizes its North Korea policy. It is not desirable for South Korea to create schisms in the alliance by rushing to demand relaxed sanctions.
Given the sophistication of nuclear armaments in North Korea, we cannot afford to repeat the trials and errors of the past. The Biden administration is considering the strategy of pressuring North Korea based on tripartite cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo and even drawing China and Russia into the effort. The Moon Jae-in administration must actively participate in revitalizing the trilateral cooperation Biden wants to restore.
Seoul also needs to cooperate with Biden’s China strategy. If the Moon administration only demands cooperation on peninsula issues without recognizing the new U.S. administration’s policy on China, it could cause a serious problem for the alliance. Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun’s negative reaction last week to joining the Quad plus is very inappropriate. Korean Peninsula issues are not an independent variable to America’s China strategy. Our government must see a bigger picture on inter-Korean affairs.
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