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Moon administration's discord over U.S.’s new Asia strategy

Moon administration's discord over U.S.’s new Asia strategy

Posted November. 11, 2017 07:53,   

Updated November. 11, 2017 08:17


South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have exposed their discord over the concept of “Indo-Pacific,” the U.S.’s new Asia strategy. Cheong Wa Dae changed its position three times in a day while the Foreign Ministry was at loss all the time. It was absolutely preposterous to see the two organizations talking on the sensitive foreign and security policy without prior coordination and later trying to patch up their differences. It happened immediately after U.S. President Donald Trump left this country after his state visit and President Moon embarked on his ASEAN tour.

The controversy began on Thursday when President Moon Jae-in’s economic adviser Kim Hyeon-cheol, who accompanied the president on the Indonesia trip, said in a press briefing, “Although Japan seeks to establish a “Indo-Pacific” cooperation linking Japan, Australia, India and the United States, we believe it would not be desirable for us to take part in such a regime.” Considering a joint statement summarizing the summit between the leaders of South Korea and the United States, his remarks were quite confusing. “President Trump has highlighted that the US-ROK alliance remains a linchpin for security, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” the joint statement said. After Kim’s such remarks, the Foreign Ministry explained the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy is in line with our policy direction. Later in the day, a senior official at Cheong Wa Dae changed its position, saying, “The concept in the joint statement was said by President Trump, but President Moon decided not to put his name for that part,” before stating after coordinating with the foreign ministry that it required additional consultations. The presidential office changed its position from “we will not join” to “we did not agree” and then “we need additional consultations.”


This should not be taken lightly as a simple happening. The theme of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” region is the Trump administration’s new Asia strategy that goes beyond the Asia-Pacific region and includes countries in the Indian Ocean including India. At present, China is unhappy about the idea, which is viewed as a “Asian version of NATO” to keep China in check. It is a sensitive issue that can stir up conflicts between the United States and China. Nevertheless, South Korea suddenly stepped in and bluntly showed to China that it does not take the U.S. side. It is the extreme of amateurism to the extent that South Korea’s lacking strategic ambiguity would become an object of ridicule by neighboring countries.

The bigger problem is that this not-so-funny happening shed light on the current status of the Moon Jai-in administration’s terrible diplomatic and security line. A presidential economic adviser who does not know about diplomacy and security has failed to behave prudently. In addition to that, Cheong Wa Dae high-ranking officials’ hasty intervention added fuel to the fire. Diplomatic security is an area that requires a high level of strategic judgment. We must prevent non-specialist from exceeding their authority.

Let alone the presidential aide’s ignorant remarks, we should take a look at the way how the Foreign Ministry has dealt with the issue. “Foreign Ministry passing” seems to become routine, and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa has no significant presence. It was the presidential office’s Security Council that clinched an agreement with China to solve the problems related to the deployment of the THAAD ballistic missile defense system, and Minister Kang only read the “three Nos principle” as ordered at the National Assembly. Recently, she appeared in a TV show, a liberal journalist Kim O-jun’s Black House and seemed to just laugh at and sympathize with Kim’s making fun of U.S. President Donald Trump ahead of his state visit to Korea. With the way things are going, it is concerning that any irreparable diplomatic disaster may arise.