|This picture shows the Korean, U.S. and Chinese flags. Signs of rapprochement between the world's two superpowers present a new challenge to Korea, according to experts, Sunday. gettyimagesbank|
Seoul needs dual strategy as it could be left in 'awkward' position: analysts
By Jung Min-ho
In the first cabinet-level exchange between the world's two superpowers in months, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and her Chinese counterpart Wang Wentao said they had "candid and substantive" discussions on trade issues in Washington on Thursday (local time).
The meeting followed positive statements made days earlier by U.S. President Joe Biden and the newly arrived Chinese ambassador to the U.S. In a May 21 press conference at the Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima, Japan, Biden predicted a near-term "thaw" in commercial relations with China. Additionally, Xie Feng, the new Chinese ambassador known to be moderate, vowed on May 23 to put bilateral relations "back to the right track."
These signs of rapprochement present a fresh challenge to Korea, which has aligned itself more closely with the U.S. and its key allies despite the risk of damaging relations with China under President Yoon Suk Yeol.
Experts said Sunday that there is little chance of a fundamental change in relations between Washington and Beijing, given the widespread support in the U.S. for a tough stance against China. Driven by self-interest, however, they believe the two sides may seek ― and possibly achieve ― an improvement in their trade ties and that Korea should be prepared to protect its national interest under such a scenario.
"The U.S. appears to have adopted a dual-path strategy in which it seeks to pressure China through international bodies, such as the G7, while seeking to recover its frayed relationship with China bilaterally," Kang Joon-young, an expert on China at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, told The Korea Times. "That means Korea needs to develop its own dual strategy as it could be left in an awkward position if the U.S. and China suddenly decide to shake hands. I do not think the possibility is high, but Korea should not rule it out and strategize its future moves in order to protect its key national interest."
Tensions soared between the world's two largest economies following a visit last August by former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, a de facto separate self-governing island which Beijing claims as its own, and the detection of a Chinese spy balloon in U.S. airspace this January. To pressure Beijing, the Biden administration imposed new semiconductor export restrictions while maintaining Trump-era tariffs on China imports. Yet many problems have arisen due to their deeply intertwined commercial networks, which has drawn criticism from U.S. allies as well as its own business leaders.
"There are growing voices from U.S. companies that have been affected by tensions between the two countries. So far, there has been much talk but no concrete action, but the U.S. might alter its policy direction in favor of its business leaders, which would be a diplomatic risk Korea should be aware of and prepared for," said Chung Jae-hung, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute.
|Trade Minister Ahn Duk-geun, left, and his Chinese counterpart Wang Wentao shake hands before their meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Detroit, Friday (local time). Courtesy of Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy|
All this requires Seoul's nimble diplomatic efforts, at a time when it faces pressure from Washington to join the U.S.-led international semiconductor export controls targeting China, experts say.
On the sidelines of Friday's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Detroit, Trade Minister Ahn Duk-geun had a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, during which the two sides exchanged views on trade issues including semiconductor industry supply chains.
While the Chinese side claimed that the two countries agreed to strengthen cooperation in that area, the Korean ministry's statement did not mention chips and instead highlighted that it asked for Beijing's support in creating a predictable business environment for Korean companies.