|President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech at a joint press conference with U.S. President Donald Trump after their eighth summit at Cheong Wa Dae, June 30, on the second day of Trump's two-day visit to Seoul. Yonhap|
By Jung Da-min
The main outcomes of U.S. President Donald Trump's recent visit to South Korea were largely overshadowed by the U.S. president's historic encounter with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
Trump and President Moon Jae-in, however, also discussed a range of other outstanding issues in the context of the bilateral partnership. One of the less-noticed but actually important issues was a "very rare" acknowledgement by the South Korean leader of the United States-initiated Indo-Pacific Strategy.
"We've reached a consensus to put forth further harmonious cooperation between South Korea's New Southern Policy and the United States' Indo-Pacific Strategy," Moon said at his joint press conference with Trump at Cheong Wa Dae, July 30, following their in-person talks on topics of mutual interest and other regional issues.
The remark was South Korea's first-ever offering to officially support the U.S. policy in the region. President Moon designed the New Southern Policy to better posture the country to avail itself for economic opportunities in Southeast Asia to reduce reliance on existing trading partners, particularly China.
By describing the United States-South Korea alliance as the "linchpin" of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region, the U.S. Department of State said in a statement on July 2 that Trump and Moon agreed to deepen bilateral cooperation on the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy and Seoul's New Southern Policy.
Over the last two years, Washington has sought active support from its key allies for its initiatives to back up what it has described as a "free and open Indo-Pacific." From South Korea's perspective, throwing its support behind this strategy will cause some political backlash from China.
Because China is still one of the key export markets for South Korea, Seoul has so far been sitting on the sidelines. A greater sense of vulnerability came after China applied various discriminatory measures on leading South Korean technology firms after Seoul deployed a U.S. missile defense system.
"From Trump's perspective, he would give a high credit to South Korea for joining the U.S.' constraint policy toward China by expressing official support for the Indo-Pacific Policy," said Kim Keun-sik, a political science professor at Kyungnam University.
Seoul's support for the policy could also be seen as sharing more of the burden in its military alliance with Washington, said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. "The support also included expanding Seoul's position into a strategic role in the region."
Regarding possible synergy from the combination of Seoul's New Southern Policy and the Indo-Pacific Strategy, the research fellow said South Korea's interest in the Indo-Pacific Strategy may have been piqued. "The actual actions should be followed in a separate way," he said.