The China factor
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Whenever it has an opportunity, the Moon Jae-in administration praises the importance of the Korea-U.S. alliance. When meeting with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines in May, Moon said the bilateral alliance is not just about security but also about universal values. But you can see the truth in actions, not words. The Moon administration has repeated acts that weakened the alliance. It treats the alliance as a white elephant while trying to please North Korea and China.
The government’s true intention was seen at the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee on Sept. 7, when lawmakers questioned the government about Korea’s possible participation in the “Five Eyes,” an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and the United States.
Rep. Kim Young-joo of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) asked the Foreign Ministry if the government has reviewed a possibility of joining the alliance, as the U.S. Congress has recently asked the Biden administration to research and report if it is desirable to invite Korea, Japan, India and Germany to the alliance. The Five Eyes members share security information collected through Echelon, a global network of electronic spy stations. Joining the intelligence alliance will elevate Korea’s status as the most valued ally of the United States, and Korea will receive extremely sensitive data from the five members. It means Korea will obtain superior intelligence assets.
Kim, then, said, “It is an alliance built to keep China in check, and we need to have a healthy relationship with China.” Although participating in the Five Eyes will bring about enormous benefits, the administration has no intention to join it because of China, just like it stayed out of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad).
In contrast, Japan’s attitude is clearly different. Over the past years, Japan has fiercely lobbied to become the “sixth eye.” In August last year, a report said the British government is considering inviting Japan, and then Defense Minister Taro Kono immediately announced Tokyo’s intention to participate. In the near future, it is expected that the Five Eyes will include Japan.
The Five Eyes was based on the UK-USA security agreement signed in 1946. In 1955, Canada, Australia and New Zealand joined to expand the alliance to the Five Eyes. The United States treats those countries more closely than its allies such as Korea, Japan and other NATO countries. Therefore, joining the Five Eyes is considered as an upgrade of an alliance with the U.S.
The Moon administration has missed critical opportunities while walking on eggshells around China. It stayed out of the Quad and delayed and reduced the annual Korea-U.S. joint military exercises. At the end of last month, a British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and its strike group was supposed to make a port call at Busan and conduct a joint military drill with the Korean Navy, but it called off the plan and conducted a humanitarian search and rescue exercise instead. Korea said it was due to the pandemic, but observers said Korea was trying to not disturb China.
But Japan was different. Britain’s Royal Navy conducted a joint drill with Japanese Self Defense Forces and the U.S. Navy in the waters south of Okinawa, near China. The F-35B fighter jets’ takeoff and landing exercise was Japan’s first maritime joint exercise with the British Navy. If Korea continues to walk on eggshells around China, unlike Japan, how will the U.S. consider Korea’s value as an ally?
As the rivalry between America and China grows fiercer, Korea will face more pressures from both of them to pick a side. China’s status, particularly in economy, requires a careful consideration for us. But it is unwise to hesitate for an issue when it is clear that we will have more gains than losses. Furthermore, China has not reciprocated Korea’s decision at all. If you show favors all the time, they will take it for granted.