Home Agenda Analysis: South Korea’s Yoon uses Biden summit as springboard for global agenda as China looms

Analysis: South Korea’s Yoon uses Biden summit as springboard for global agenda as China looms

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U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol arrive for a state dinner at the National Museum of Korea, in Seoul, South Korea May 21, 2022. Lee Jin-man/Pool via REUTERS

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SEOUL, May 23 (Reuters) – South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, used a largely successful summit with U.S. President Joe Biden over the weekend to lay the groundwork for his goal of enabling Korea of the South to play a more active role around the world.

Inaugurated on May 10, Yoon said his main foreign policy goal would be to establish South Korea as a “global pivot state” with a focus on promoting freedom, peace and prosperity. based on its liberal democratic values ​​and cooperation.

This closely mirrors Biden’s call for “like-minded” democracies with shared values ​​to work together, allowing the pair to engage in a surprisingly long list of areas of cooperation, setting the bar high on pledges but also highlighting how Yoon sees closer American ties as his path to global engagement.

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“Yoon clearly tried to use this visit as a way to launch his ‘Global Pivotal State’ agenda,” said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, president of Korea at the Brussels School of Governance.

The two leaders signaled in a joint statement at the summit their support for Biden’s framework for economic cooperation in Asia before it was even unveiled, pledged to cooperate on everything from international cooperation on nuclear energy to the cybersecurity, and have included mentions of Taiwan, the South China Sea, and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The language used in Taiwan and the South China Sea has not changed dramatically from that of Yoon’s liberal and generally cautious predecessor Moon Jae-in, but that could change, Pacheco Pardo said.

“I think Yoon will be ready to join in the condemnation of China as a member of groups of like-minded countries in due time,” he said.

Pacheco Pardo was skeptical that South Korea would soon change its policy of providing only non-lethal aid to Ukraine, and said there was no real pressure from NATO to that the Asian partner provides arms.

But other analysts saw signs that language on Ukraine could lay the political groundwork for Yoon to increase aid.

“Ukraine is seen by Washington as a litmus test for its coalition of countries with shared values, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more talk on the road to South Korea providing aid, including possibly including weapons,” said Mason Richey, a professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul.

More vocal support for Ukraine and improving relations with its US ally Japan are two areas where Yoon differs the most from his predecessor, and both will play well in Washington, he added.

THE SHADOW OF CHINA

However, increasing North Korean weapons testing threatens to undermine Yoon’s attempts to look beyond the peninsula, and like Biden, he will have to prove to domestic audiences that foreign engagement improves lives at home. him.

Yoon’s emphasis on economic cooperation and his commitment to join the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a program Biden launched in Japan on Monday, to bind countries more closely of the region through common standards in areas such as supply chain resilience, clean energy, infrastructure and digital trade, have been particularly notable, said Pacheco Pardo.

“Joining IPEF, in my opinion, is more important than we think because China has explicitly asked Korea not to,” he said.

China is South Korea’s biggest trading partner, and South Korea has already faced economic retaliation for defying China.

Probably with these interests in mind, Yoon’s team stressed that the IPEF did not explicitly exclude China and that it was natural and of vital national interest for South Korea to participate in such rule-making process.

South Korea intends to expand its partnership with China through “qualitative and quantitative economic cooperation”, the foreign ministry said.

“The IPEF and efforts to build a norm-based order etc. are partly meant to control China, but by not mentioning the word ‘China’ directly, they seemed to be trying to uphold the principle of mutual respect. “, said James. Kim, a researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

Some opposition lawmakers criticized Yoon for risking antagonizing China, but Kim said the president may have tacitly acknowledged rising anti-China sentiment among many South Koreans.

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Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Soo-hyang Choi

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