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Joining Quad is extension of pro-US policy, showing Yoon administration’s lack of experience

《环球时报》 2023-09-13

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

  South Korea is very keen on joining the Quad grouping, said the South Korean Envoy in India Chang Jae-bok on Wednesday, according to The Hindu. However, just recently, at the G20 summit, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol publicly expressed his hope to promote the stable and healthy development of the South Korea-China relationship.

  Currently, the South Korean government's foreign policy is heavily leaning toward the US, and the eagerness to join the Quad is an extension of this diplomatic policy. The Yoon administration's foreign policy is deeply entrenched in the mind-set of a new cold war and cannot extricate itself.

  The South Korean government seems to believe that the world has entered a new cold war and agrees with the US in dividing the world into liberal and authoritarian camps. In other words, South Korea may acknowledge the need to view non-Western countries as enemies, and cooperation has limitations. South Korea also understands that strengthening relations with the Western camp will lead to friction in the relations between China and South Korea and even on the Korean Peninsula, but it considers this a necessary cost.

  The important thing is that South Korea believes that by doing so, it reflects its identity as a global pivotal state and assumes global responsibilities. Zhan Debin, director and professor of the Center for Korean Peninsula Studies at the Shanghai University of International Business and Economics, told the Global Times that South Korea, which claims to be the vanguard of safeguarding the order of freedom and democracy, has become an important ally in promoting the US Indo-Pacific strategy in the Asia-Pacific region, which can enhance South Korea's international status. However, this confidence and enthusiasm may only be wishful thinking on the part of South Korea.

  Since the Yoon administration came to power, it has shown great confidence in joining the Quad. Due to the influence of the Japan-South Korea relationship at that time, Japan did not want to see South Korea's participation, let alone South Korea decreasing its influence within this small circle. Compared to Japan, India is even less willing to see the Quad become an anti-China and anti-Russia group, as this would diminish India's value. As the leader of the Quad, the US has also not provided much support to South Korea.

  Despite the active pressure from the Donald Trump administration for the South Korean government to join the Quad, President Joe Biden has not made a proactive statement on this matter. The Yoon administration believed that as long as South Korea proposed it, the US would immediately agree. However, from the perspective of the US, South Korea's capabilities and contributions, especially in terms of security outside the Korean Peninsula, are limited and cannot be of much help to the US.

  If South Korea joins the Quad, the US naturally needs to consider how much contribution South Korea can make within the Quad mechanism. Wu Xinbo, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times that in current Quad mechanism, the US is using India, Japan and Australia to contain China from the Indian Ocean, the West Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea. What can South Korea do? It can at most cooperate with the US and Japan in economic and trade measures to suppress China. In other words, South Korea has not yet proved its capabilities among the Quad countries.

  For South Korea, the security of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia should be the most concerning issue. Without cooperation with China, South Korea cannot maintain a stable and peaceful situation in the region. However, the inexperienced administration of Yoon clearly does not realize it. On one hand, it claims to maintain China-South Korea relations, but on the other hand, it continuously tests China's bottom line, which is detrimental to regional peace and stability and does not align with South Korea's own interests. If the Yoon administration wants to manage China-South Korea relations well, it needs to show sincerity. If the trilateral summit between China, Japan, and South Korea is only for showcasing South Korea's leadership and international status, the public's dissatisfaction with the government will only continue to rise.