By Shim Jae-yun
Yoon will be bracing for the first test due to the U.S. bid to unite its allies behind it to contain the growing influence of China in the Asia-Pacific region. For starters, Biden is expected to pressure Korea to join the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). "So as it relates to our economic framework, it's going to focus on building agreements with Indo-Pacific partners. The United States has strong economic and trade ties in the Indo-Pacific so it is essential for us to step up economically in the region and to do it fast," White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said in a daily briefing Monday.
Yoon also said he will discuss the IPEF details in the summit. Yet concern is growing that the new economic bloc, comprising major U.S. allies such as Japan, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand, will trigger adverse consequences. The initiative, designed to contain China in the U.S. encirclement strategy, will irritate China to take retaliatory measures against member countries. On the contrary to the rosy expectation, the new bloc can deepen vulnerability in the global supply chain.
In fact, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan underlined the importance of complementariness of Korean and Chinese economies with enormous potential of mutual benefits during his courtesy call to Yoon on May 10. The launch of the IPEF will virtually paralyze the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), comprised of 15 Asia-Pacific nations, destabilizing the regional economy.
These and others indicate the need for Yoon administration to take prudent approaches in the IPEF issue. IPEF initiative features, among others, setup of channels for stable supply of key industrial resources such as semiconductors and batteries. As Korea is equipped with world-class caliber in the areas, it can call on the U.S. to offer favors in return for its possible admission in the IPEF. Such benefits include the prospective swapping of U.S. dollars in contingency. This has become essential for Seoul in light of the recent turbulence in the financial market including steady depreciation of Korean won against the U.S. dollar, prompted by the U.S.'s consecutive raising of key rates.
On the security front, Seoul and Washington have been pressured to elevate the fragile alliance to jointly cope with the mounting challenges such as North Korea's die-hard nuclear ambition, regional cooperation and, most notably, China's increasing sway. The alliance saw its prime time during the Lee Myung-bak administration amid the assessment "it cannot be better." The alliance expanded to an economic cooperative framework since the two nations struck the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.
Yet, buffeted by bungled policies of the Moon administration with humiliatingly low attitudes toward the prickling North Korea and China, the Korea-U.S. alliance continued to wane. Taking advantage of the enfeebled alliance, North Korea has continued to conduct military provocations, firing ballistic missiles including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), renouncing its self-imposed moratorium.
The North is unlikely to stop its drive to build up its nuclear capabilities. Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine appears to have nudged Pyongyang to gear up its nuclear campaign. The North is widely expected to test a seventh nuclear test in the near future. In a nutshell, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will never give up his nuclear program unless he is guaranteed safety of his regime and lifting of diverse international sanctions.
Against this backdrop, Yoon and Biden need to discuss details on deterring possible provocations by the North during their summit. They also should come up with detailed steps to induce the North to the dialogue table including provision of humanitarian assistance such as medicines to help it in its anti-COVID-19 campaign. Both leaders should discuss creative initiatives to find a solution to the deadlocked relations with the North. For this, Washington should help Seoul to improve ties with Pyongyang and honor the previous agreements signed under the former administrations toward peace on the Korean Peninsula.
The author (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an editorial writer of The Korea Times.