Allied on values
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
This weekend, headlines in Korean newspapers are expected to be about vaccine cooperation between Korea and the United States. Having declared his intention to become a leader in eradicating Covid-19, U.S. President Joe Biden will not send President Moon Jae-in away empty-handed after their first face-to-face meeting at the White House on Friday. Considering the production capability of Korean bio companies, that’s an area that Seoul and Washington can easily cooperate in. It is regrettable that the Moon Jae-in administration wasn’t more aggressive early on, but I hope my prediction won’t be wrong.
But on other parts of the agenda, I cannot say I am optimistic about the summit. On North Korea policy, President Moon, partly encouraged by the gradual and pragmatic approach of the Biden administration, is ready to encourage Biden to pursue North-U.S. talks more actively. Lifting sanctions and declaring an end to the Korean War may be brought up again. However, the U.S. stance is still prudent, and the North Korea issue has a relatively low priority for Biden. The U.S. administration said Biden’s approach to North Korea will be different from Obama’s “strategic patience” and Trump’s “package deal” aspiration.
But one can hardly imagine any new solution to the decades-old North Korean nuclear conundrum. Many experts think that Biden’s approach isn’t going to be much different from Obama’s “strategic patience.” Given the vacancy of the post of the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, I can read the mood in Biden’s administration. Moreover, the United States is skeptical about Pyongyang’s willingness to give up its nuclear program. It would difficult for Biden to easily reach an agreement on the thorny issue with Moon, who takes an approach quite different from Biden from the beginning.
Biden’s true focus is on a more fundamental and broader issue than vaccines or the North Korean nuclear threat. It is America’s response to China. Biden is different from Trump in his approach to allies. In an article he wrote as a presidential candidate, Biden claimed that the United States made up 25 percent of the global GDP, but combined with allies, the sum is 50 percent.
What Biden puts more weight on is shared values. He wants to rebuild a supply network and next-generation technology standards among countries sharing values. The point is that countries that don’t share values will be excluded from the network. I didn’t believe in Biden’s approach at first, but it is becoming more promising in my eyes.
Moon would not gladly support Biden’s plan. South Korea has very unique geopolitical and historic factors in terms of its relationship with China. The Moon administration is likely to get through the initial gateway by partially participating in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) that the United States wants it to join. South Korea would like to participate in the areas China is not sensitive about, citing the spirit of “tolerance” and “openness” of the loose security platform engaging the U.S., Australia, Japan and India.
Partial participation may be a decision the South Korean government made after long contemplation, but that does not free the country from the problem completely. In a video conference on South Korea and the Quad on May 7, Edgard Kagan, senior director for East Asia and Oceania in the National Security Council at the White House, said that the purpose of the Quad is for countries sharing values and having similar world views to cooperate on mutual tasks. In other words, the Quad is sort of an open consultative body, yet is not open to anyone.
We need a change of thinking. The discussion on the Quad offers a chance for South Korea to review whether it actually shares values and perspectives with the United States. If South Korea makes a decision based on that standards, it no longer needs to agonize over whether to join the Quad or not.
“Katchi Kapshida” means “Let’s go together,” and Americans have been using this slogan for the Korea-U.S. alliance. Biden may say “Katchi Kapshida” in the summit meeting. The United States says so because it still believes South Korea is a country of liberal democracy and market economics.