South Korea should not blindly follow the US and the West in making its China policy
Published: Jul 20, 2022 03:55 PM
China South Korea File photo:CGTN

China South Korea File photo:CGTN

Since taking office, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has been participating in multilateral mechanisms or events that more or less took China as the target. This includes strengthening trilateral cooperation among the US, South Korea and Japan, attending the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, and attending the NATO summit. Many South Korean media outlets and experts worry that their country will sooner or later face "retaliation" from China because of such moves.

But it seems the Yoon administration has a different logic to convince itself. Some in the South Korean government argue that China has already "retaliated" against South Korea over the THAAD issue because the latter did not show enough solidarity with Western countries like the US and Japan. If South Korea did so, China would view it in a new light and pay more attention to it.

These people then deduce that South Korea needs to participate more actively in the Western-led multilateral framework to deal with China. They confidently believe that China will not fight a duel with South Korea if the latter is in these multilateral frameworks, because other countries will join forces to help South Korea if China does so. 

There are many problems with this logic, the most fundamental one being the reversal of cause and effect. In recent years, conflicts between Beijing and Seoul have arisen over the THAAD issue. China, which takes countermeasures against South Korea, clearly shouldn't be blamed. The conflicts result from South Korea becoming a pawn of the US to suppress China.

There are no fundamental conflicts of interest between China and South Korea. But today South Korea seems to be taking the initiative to make confrontation with China a major topic. However, such a confrontation is in the interests of neither sides, and the negative impact on Seoul can be even greater.

Not only has South Korea made up a cause of its own illness, but it has also written itself an unhelpful prescription. Some Koreans think that South Korea should actively seek to decouple from China and confront it to express its loyalty to the US and the West. They believe doing so can bring South Korea economic growth, national security, and last but not least, China's respect.

This is entirely a miscalculation. Seoul is not facing any problems caused by Beijing. Even if there is really a conflict or even confrontation between the two countries, will those "like-minded" countries in the cliques South Korea has joined in stand up for it?

It is evident some South Koreans still haven't fully learned the lessons of the THAAD issue. South Korea's security problems cannot be solved by turning to the West or deploying US weapons and equipment. The environmental impact assessment of the THAAD base is on the agenda of Seoul, an important signal that the Yoon administration will continue to push for the deployment of the anti-ballistic missile defense system.

Washington has used the THAAD issue to drive a wedge between Beijing and Seoul. South Korea has sacrificed its interests for the US, but will the US stand up for it when something really happens? In the future, it is likely that the US and other Western countries will drag South Korea into more problems they create rather than helping it.

The South Korean government has repeatedly claimed that its participation in these cliques is not intended to "exclude or target specific countries or regions." This is somewhat burying its head in the sand. The Yoon administration has not yet announced a concrete China policy, but its words and actions have raised concerns that that policy has been on the wrong track.

China and South Korea are permanent neighbors and inseparable partners. Facts have proven that the development of China-South Korea relations is in the fundamental interests of both countries and peoples and promotes regional peace and development. Beijing supports Seoul in playing a more active role in the international arena and jointly seeking a positive peace in the Northeast Asia, instead of a negative one achieved by bloc confrontation. It is hoped that Seoul will realize the nature of China-South Korea relations and not blindly follow Washington and the West's policy toward Beijing.

The author is the director and professor at the Center for Korean Peninsula Studies at the Shanghai University of International Business and Economics. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn