Skilled diplomacy is neededThe United States on Wednesday proclaimed its support for a temporary waiver of intellectual property provisions to allow developing nations to produce Covid-19 vaccines. Since President Joe Biden and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai confirmed their support, the World Trade Organization will proceed with the negotiations and conditional terms to lift IP rights for vaccines.
While most of the world is struggling with a dearth of vaccines, the U.S. has been criticized for stocking vaccines produced by American drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna. Vaccines developed by China and Russia were distributed to developing countries despite questions about side effects. It is a relief that the U.S. has responded to mounting international scorn about its selfishness over vaccines to back the talks on waiving IP rights of vaccine makers.
The news can be a huge opportunity for South Korea. President Moon Jae-in must put aside ideological convictions to strengthen the alliance with the Uncle Sam. He must revive an alliance based on democracy and human rights by cooperating with the Biden administration’s policy to resolve North Korean denuclearization and containment of China in a multilateral diplomacy framework. Only when mutual trust is restored can South Korea draw support from the U.S. on vaccines easily.
After his first summit with Biden in Washington on May 21, Moon is headed to a G7 summit in Cornwall in the U.K on June 11. He must maximize the two political events. Biden’s top interest is building a cooperative network among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan. Moon must be clear in a determination to improve relations with Japan following the foreign ministerial meeting last Wednesday between South Korea and Japan in London vowing a “future-oriented” relationship. The concerned parties must hold a tripartite meeting on the sidelines of the G7 summit and come to an agreement on the issue.
Joining the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) among the U.S., Japan, Australia and India also could help our vaccine procurement. India was able to secure 20 million doses of U.S. vaccines as a Quad member. Korea must not stall now that the Quad Plus, including Vietnam, is being discussed.
President Moon should propose to join the Quad on certain themes such as Covid-19 and climate change and express an intent to participate in the Quad Plus. Seoul won’t be able to gain full confidence from Washington if it simply tries to get vaccines through the security dialogue.