South Korea and China expressed different opinions regarding China and North Korea at the ROK-U.S. foreign and defense ministerial meeting (“2+2”) on Thursday. The joint statement adopted by the two countries holds theoretical mutual pledges as allies without keywords of the current issues on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, such as China or denuclearization. However, their joint press conference took a different turn. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken harshly criticized oppressive China and tyrannical North Korea while South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Chung Eui-yong called for the resumption of negotiations between the U.S. and the North for South Korea’s peace process.
I’d like to believe that such meeting results where their written and spoken words had major differences are intended as the understanding of each other’s circumstances and thoughts and a plan to adjust differences in the future. It warrants more time as the two allies announced that they will come up with “a fully-coordinated strategy toward North Korea” under the close collaboration. Given their drastically different opinions and the way they explicitly revealed such differences, however, it is rather concerning that the two might have agreed on writing “nice things” on paper and saying whatever each side had to say.
The launch of a new administration in the U.S. is bringing sudden changes to the political landscape in Asia. The Biden administration is moving quickly with the priority of establishing control over China. China is also directly responding to the U.S.’ attempts to check the country. The two countries shared heated words at the high-level diplomatic talks held on Friday in Alaska. Conflicts between the two are now in a full clash and heading into a hegemonic race.
Despite such changes, South Korea is still focused on managing inter-Korean relations. Conflicts between the U.S. and China have historically caused China and North Korea to get closer, hindering the resolution of North Korea’s nuclear issues. The North seems to be taking advantage of the recent developments and about to resume the cycle of strategic provocations from four years ago when the Korean Peninsula was experiencing the threats of war. Following the threats of provocations against South Korea, the North is preparing to launch long-distance missiles. It is questionable whether the U.S. in conflict with China will exert its influence to control North Korea’s provocations.
Joint response by South Korea and the U.S. is desperately needed in such a sensitive situation where the U.S.-China conflicts are worsening and North Korea is plotting provocations. Therefore, North Korea policies to be revealed in the next few weeks need to be “fully-coordinated strategies” as pledged. If the next joint statement also states there is no major difference yet each country has different ideas in reality, South Korea and the U.S. will expose missteps in places, causing misjudgment by China and the North. Moreover, the worst case where the U.S. decides to sit back and the alliance malfunctions in crisis may not be a far-fetched scenario.