US-S.Korea agreements add new danger; ‘extended deterrence’ could trigger ‘another nuclear crisis’ in peninsula
Published: Apr 27, 2023 10:24 PM
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (left) and US President Joe Biden arrive for a state dinner in Seoul on May 21, 2022. File photo: AFP

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (left) and US President Joe Biden. File photo: AFP

US President Joe Biden and visiting South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol reached a series of strategic agreements on "extended deterrence" against North Korea, as well as the Taiwan question and the South China Sea issue, drawing firm opposition and strong criticism from the Chinese Foreign Ministry

Chinese experts warned that if Washington deploys nuclear weapons, including a nuclear-armed submarine, according to US media reports, in South Korea, it could trigger another nuclear crisis in the Korean Peninsula, and Washington and Seoul should take full responsibility for the consequences. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning responded to the US-South Korea Washington Declaration and the leaders' joint statement at a routine press conference on Thursday saying that "the US, in order to realize its own geopolitical interests and disregarding regional security, insisted on making use of the peninsula issue to create tension." 

The actions of the US are full of Cold War mentality, instigate bloc confrontation, undermine the nuclear non-proliferation system, damage the strategic interests of other countries, exacerbate tensions on the peninsula, undermine regional peace and stability, and run counter to the goal of denuclearization of the peninsula. China firmly opposes this, Mao said. 

According to the Washington Declaration reached by the presidents of the US and South Korea, the US commits to making every effort to consult with South Korea on "any possible nuclear weapons employment on the Korean Peninsula," while Yoon reaffirmed the commitment to South Korea's obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The US-South Korea alliance commits to engaging in "deeper, cooperative decision-making" on nuclear deterrence, including through enhanced dialogue and information sharing on growing "nuclear threats" to South Korea and the region. The two presidents announced the establishment of a new Nuclear Consultative Group to strengthen extended deterrence, and discuss nuclear and strategic planning, according to the document.

Another crisis

According to CNN, Biden and Yoon announced a key new agreement at the White House on Wednesday that aims to deter North Korea, "including a new US commitment to deploy a nuclear-armed submarine in South Korea for the first time since the early 1980s."

Lü Chao, an expert on Korean Peninsula issues at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday that "if the US really deploys nuclear weapons or a nuclear-armed submarine in the peninsula, it's very likely to trigger another nuclear crisis."

Lü said based on Pyongyang's principle of "might for might, frontal match," North Korea could take some unprecedented action in response to the US' act, such as carrying out an atmospheric nuclear test.

 "The possibility cannot be ruled out, and if this happens, Washington and Seoul should be held accountable for their provocation."  

Wang Junsheng, a research fellow of East Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times on Thursday that "the concept of 'extended deterrence' consists of three factors - joint military drills, regular visits of US strategic assets (such as aircraft carriers, submarines, and bombers) to South Korea, and deployment of nuclear weapons in the peninsula."

Currently, the US and South Korea have already realized the joint drills and the regular visits of US assets, and if the US goes one step further to deploy nuclear weapons, including nuclear-armed submarines, this will definitely result in serious consequences that will not only force North Korea to enhance its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, but will also worsen China-US tensions, Wang noted.

"The deployment of US nuclear-armed submarines in the region so close to China's territory is unacceptable, and if the US receives no opposition or retaliation from China, it will deploy more strategic weapons including aircraft carriers and strategic bombers. 

So there must be a bottom-line between major powers like China and the US, and if Washington intends to break the balance, the regional situation will get extremely intense," Wang said. 

China's attitude

According to US and South Korean media, "China received advance briefings from South Korea and the United States about the Washington Declaration." 

Experts said even though the two countries sought to ease China's concerns and opposition by informing it in advance, China will still take their actions as a threat and respond according to their real actions.

Han Xiandong, a professor of Korean studies at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times on Thursday that in addition to the Washington Declaration, the joint statement by Biden and Yoon contains some elements that are provocative to China.

According to the joint statement released on Wednesday, the US and South Korean presidents reiterated the importance of "preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait as an indispensable element of security and prosperity in the region." They strongly opposed any unilateral attempts to "change the status quo in the Indo-Pacific, including through unlawful maritime claims, the militarization of reclaimed features, and coercive activities." 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao responded on Thursday by saying that the Taiwan question is purely China's internal affair and the core of China's core interests. The resolution of the Taiwan question is the Chinese people's own business, and no force will be allowed to intervene. 

"The real status quo of the Taiwan question is that both sides of the Taiwan Straits belong to one China, Taiwan is a part of China, and China's national sovereignty and territorial integrity have never been divided," and the separatist forces, as well as the forces of external interference are the "chief culprits in undermining the status quo across the Taiwan Strait," Mao said.

"We urge the US and South Korea to be cautious in their words and deeds on the Taiwan question, and not go further down the wrong and dangerous path," Mao noted. 

Before visiting the US, Yoon made extremely provocative statements on the Taiwan question that seriously damaged China-South Korea relations, as he tried to internationalize the issue, which seriously violates the one-China principle, a political foundation and precondition of the establishment of China-South Korea diplomatic relations, prompting the Chinese side to make solemn representations to the South Korean ambassador to China, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Sunday

According to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday, when presented his credential to Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday, South Korean Ambassador to China Chung Jae-ho conveyed Yoon's invitation to Xi for a visit to Seoul.  

Chinese analysts said this shows that Yoon and his team are not aware of the seriousness of their provocative comments on the Taiwan question and their ridiculous diplomatic reaction against China after Yoon made his statement.  

Lü said that unless Yoon withdraws his provocative comments on the Taiwan question and makes concrete corrections to his previous mistakes to prove South Korea's sincerity, it will be absolutely impossible for Seoul to expect China to tolerate or forgive their wrongdoings, let alone a state visit to their country.

Han said, "the Yoon administration has arrogantly miscalculated China, as some of their policymakers believe that China's economy is in trouble so China needs South Korea more than South Korea needs China. This kind of thinking has encouraged their provocation which they made to please the US, and they believe China will tolerate it." 

The US investment that Yoon received this time, only $5.9 billion, will not pay for South Korea's aggressive policy against China, as the price is not only reflected in economy and trade but also other sectors, so sooner or later the South Korean people will find Yoon's unwise diplomatic strategy to be "unsustainable and self-destructive" and Yoon's low approval rating will result in a more chaotic internal political situation in South Korea, experts said.