Yoon and Biden should get along, predicts HamreThe first summit between Yoon Suk-yeol and Joe Biden on Saturday will serve as a compass for future diplomacy. We asked two experts who have been observing South Korea-U.S. relations for decades how the South Korean and U.S. leaders will get along: John Hamre, president and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Edwin Feulner, founder of The Heritage Foundation.
“The Biden administration feels comfortable with the newly launched Korean government,” said John Hamre, president and CEO of CSIS, a Washington think tank. Hamre is an expert in South Korea-U.S. relations and was one of the recipients of the James A. Van Fleet Award this year. The Van Fleet award is awarded yearly by the Korea Society to people or organizations that have that have contributed significantly to South Korea-U.S. relations.
Hamre addressed the core issues for Saturday's South Korean-U.S. summit in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo in Washington, D.C., stressing that North Korean provocations should be discussed in depth by the South Korean and American leaders. He also spoke on South Korea-Japan relations, saying that Washington is “very anxious to see closer working relations between Seoul and Tokyo.”
The following are edited excerpts of the interview.
Q. What are the core issues for this South Korea-U.S. summit?
A. The Biden Administration is very comfortable with the agenda that President-elect Yoon has outlined through his representatives. The Korea-U.S. alliance is strong and Biden welcomes President Yoon’s commitment to make it stronger. Both Biden and Yoon anticipate a good meeting. President Yoon has outlined an ambitious foreign policy agenda and everyone understands that this will take some time to develop. There are no superficial expectations for the meeting.
What should be the top priorities in terms of foreign policy for the Yoon administration?
Biden's senior national security leaders know the likely ministers and advisers of the Yoon Administration. But they have not had an opportunity to work with them in this new capacity. So the highest priority is to establish mutually reinforcing personal exchanges so that confidence in each other will grow.
We both anticipate a more provocative North Korea and both sides are anticipating close discussions on that. We know that Korea is interested in strengthening its defenses against North Korean missiles and I anticipate that will be an early discussion between them. One issue which will take longer is the need to rebuild Korean confidence in America’s pledge of extended deterrence to prevent a nuclear attack on Korea. I also believe that is an early issue for discussion.
President Yoon does not have deep experience in foreign policy. How much does this worry you?
Generally national leaders have a great deal more experience with domestic politics than with foreign policy. There is no worry about President Yoon in this regard because we know the key advisors who will be helping Yoon. These are solid men and women and we consider their judgment sound. That is the real key at the early stage of any government. Yoon will be naturally preoccupied with domestic political demands. His advisors will focus day-to-day on foreign policy and engage Yoon on key matters. So I don’t think this is a problem, and I don’t think there is anything extraordinary that is needed. Solid and experienced advisors are the key.
How can Seoul and Tokyo mend relations?
We are very anxious to see closer working relations between Seoul and Tokyo. I suspect that the U.S. will play a role in participating in special actions and activities to start re-establishing working ties. It will take time, and the most likely steps in the near term will be to focus on issues like cooperation on public health, emergency response, etc. We all need to be patient and persistent.
How willing is Washington to play a role in the trilateral relations between South Korea, Japan and the U.S.?
Very willing. We need both Korea and Japan. We need both countries to be strong and confident. We need both countries to play active and constructive larger roles in promoting prosperity and peace in Asia. Both countries are highly successful, and the very best examples of how democracy and free enterprise economies are the best solution for everyone. So we are very willing to help Korea and Japan work through the challenges between them.
BY CHUN SU-JIN [email@example.com]