The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
“We shouldn’t tie the distribution or access to vaccines to politics,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Japanese reporters on March 16 before he boarded the plane from Tokyo to Seoul. The comments were aimed at China, which engaged in vaccine diplomacy with its Sinovac. In exchange for the vaccine, China demanded Paraguay to sever ties with Taiwan and Brazil to lift the Huawei import ban, which triggered criticism from the United States.
Twenty days later on April 5, Secretary Blinken tapped Gayle Smith, former administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, as the new State Department Coordinator for Global Covid-19 Response and Health Security. The United States practically declared it will engage in vaccine politics. The population of the United States is 328 million, and it has secured 1.21 billion doses. With a plan to purchase 1.3 billion more doses, the total vaccine procurement is over 2.5 billion doses, more than enough to have all Americans to get seven doses. The Biden administration is sure to use surplus vaccines politically.
On April 25, the Moon Jae-in administration announced an additional contract for vaccines for 20 million people with Pfizer, but the delivery date is not set. We cannot ignore America’s vaccine diplomacy that is to be in full swing soon. Having fought together in Vietnam and Iraq as well as the Korean War, Korea can expect the “blood brothers” discount. But the reaction is cold, probably because of the evident pro-China tendency of the Moon administration. On the repeated vaccine swap requests, U.S. President Joe Biden said the U.S. does not have enough vaccines to send to other countries. But the United States sent 2.5 million and 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to Mexico and Canada, respectively. That shows America is likely to care for the countries with special relationship. The Quad countries — Japan, Australia and India — the U.S. united to check on China are likely to be top priority.
Foreign Minister Chung Ui-young is right that friends in difficult times are true friends. It would be fortunate if the Moon administration realizes how the U.S. sees Korea under his government. At any rate, the current situation cannot be resolved by cursing the government for being reluctant to join the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). The international community is the place where give-and-take works. I mean Korea needs to offer something in return.
Here, a useful card to play is semiconductors. The U.S. is practically in a state of war with China over global hegemony. That’s why the United States and China are frantically fighting the techno war.
It is noteworthy that Korea’s influence as a semiconductor power is considerable. When it comes to semiconductors, Korea is no longer a bystander between giants. Depending on where Korean semiconductor companies invest, the direction of the techno war between America and China could be determined. On April 12, Biden held a semiconductor video summit and asked heads of semiconductor companies, including Samsung Electronics, to invest in the U.S.
It seems to be a decision after contemplation. But I find it regrettable that an important card for the nation was played too easily. Overseas investments of major enterprises have long been an important diplomatic tool. As a top ten economy in the world, there’s no reason Korea shouldn’t play the game. Korea should use semiconductor investment and technology transfer as a strategic weapon. But there is one condition. The government and businesses must work together.