Picking sides

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Picking sides

Nam Jeong-ho
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The most talked-about issue related to the recent G7 summit was the photo edit. Some argued that the government manipulated the photo to highlight President Moon Jae-in, putting him towards the center and cutting off the South African president on the sideline. But as foreign media reported, we should pay attention to another issue: an imminent new Cold War between the U.S. and China.
U.S. President Joe Biden fiercely beat on China three times in six days, before and after the G7 summit.
The first attack was America’s strategic report on the four key areas, including semiconductors, issued to check China on June 8. It outlines that the U.S. needed to defend the semiconductor, battery, rare-earth elements and pharmaceutical supply networks from China’s threat. The second offensive was made during the G7 summit. Biden proposed the Building Back Better World (B3W) initiative and included it in the joint statement to counter China’s One Belt, One Road project aimed at supporting infrastructure in underdeveloped countries. It is an action to prevent China’s influence spreading around the world. Thirdly, at the NATO summit held in Brussels on June 14, its members, led by the U.S., defined China as a “structural challenge.” Since the foundation, NATO has considered Russia as the main enemy. Now, NATO has made China a state to watch, if not an enemy state.
Global media views Biden’s vigorous offensives as signalling a new Cold War. As the U.S.-China trade dispute that intensified during the Trump administration spreads to the foreign policy and security fronts, the contest over global hegemony has begun.
Of course, the new Cold War is different from the old one between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The U.S. and China are rivals but are deeply entangled economically. Despite Trump and Biden’s measures to check China, the size of trade between the two countries between January and May this year was $279 billion, up 52.3 percent from the same period last year. So, many think that the U.S.-China relations cannot be entirely confrontational. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that NATO did not consider China as an enemy like Russia. Chancellor Angela Merkel also said that China’s threat should not be exaggerated. It’s not clear how the new Cold War will develop, but as it intensifies, pressure from both countries to take a side will surely increase on Korea.
President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Joe Biden hold a joint press conference at the White House after their summit on May 21. [NEWS1]

President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Joe Biden hold a joint press conference at the White House after their summit on May 21. [NEWS1]

What should Korea do? There are various prescriptions such as choosing the U.S. to side with the ally, maintaining strategic ambiguity, and not declaring a side and responding according to the international norm for each issue. All options have pros and cons, and it is hard to say which one is the best. But the direction should be set carefully, and the entire nation has to follow at once.
But I cannot understand the direction of the foreign policy of the Moon Jae-in administration. Earlier this year, the administration looked pro-China, as Moon called Chinese leader Xi Jinping before Biden. Then, the Moon administration suddenly turned to the U.S. after the Korea-U.S. summit last month in Washington. There seems to be an underlying intention, instead of recognizing the importance of the U.S.
Earlier in the administration, I met a former Blue House insider and asked questions on who determined foreign policy. (At the time, there was a rumor that Moon’s aides, former democracy fighters, handled the Korea-U.S. relations and reunification policy.) But I was told that the president personally took care of foreign and reunification policies because he was meticulous. I didn’t believe it, simply thinking that Moon would not know about diplomacy as he had been an attorney.
But I think the insider’s comment may have been true. There is a possibility that the president is obsessed with the inter-Korean affairs and tries to fit other foreign policy to that issue.
Otherwise, Korean diplomacy wouldn’t change so drastically. If it’s true, the tail is wagging the dog. Foreign policy should not be dependent on reunification.
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