What really mattersPresident Moon Jae-in has his first summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in the White House on Friday. Due to disagreements over the denuclearization process for North Korea and other issues during Donald Trump’s administration, the South Korea-U.S. alliance has noticeably weakened, not to mention an ever greater sag in trilateral cooperation with Japan. In a dramatic departure from Trump, Biden cherishes the value of alliances based on mutual cooperation and shared values. In that respect, the upcoming Korea-U.S. summit offers a precious chance to resolve discord and shore up the decades-old alliance.
Due to the nuclear threat from North Korea, South Korea’s security has entered an entirely new phase. In the past, it was enough for South Korea to brace for the North’s conventional weapons. But the South now has to fear the North’s nuclear arsenal and China’s ever-aggressive expansion. Armed with an estimated 50 to 100 nuclear warheads, North Korea poses a serious security threat to South Korea. As some of them can be loaded onto North Korea’s intermediate-range nuclear missiles, South Korea and Japan are within their range. The belligerent state across the border will soon have ICBMs and SLBMs that could strike the U.S. mainland.
North Korea’s nuclear arsenal can’t block the United States from providing military assistance to South Korea in times of crisis. The Biden administration has decided to take an incremental and practical approach to address the threat while resolutely deterring the North from taking a dangerous path.
Under such sensitive circumstances, Moon Chung-in, President Moon’s former special advisor on diplomacy and security and current board chair of the Sejong Institute, made some shocking remarks Monday. “If the U.S. brings up human rights issues with North Korea, Pyongyang will find it difficult to give up their nuclear weapons,” he said. The progressive scholar’s comments do not help strengthen the Korea-U.S. alliance at all.
In the meantime, China is bent on turning the East and South China Seas into its own inland sea despite the international traffic that goes through those waters. In an alarming move, Russia and North Korea are jumping on the bandwagon led by China, as if to hint at a return to the Cold War era in the theater of Northeast Asia. The three countries share despotic and totalitarian tendencies. History shows such countries flex their muscles as warnings to their neighbors. South Korea is located very close to them.
The United States seeks cooperation with Japan, Australia and India to protect an international order and human rights in the region through the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). The move is even backed by the UK and France today, as seen in their dispatches of aircraft carriers. Only South Korea balks at joining the Quad as the Moon administration habitually worries about China’s economic retaliations. But without security, there’s no economy anyway.
South Korea must cooperate with the Quad to contribute to the peace of the world. We hope President Moon strengthens the alliance through Quad and finds effective ways to deter the North Korean nuclear threat in his summit in Washington.