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Seoul`s ambiguous position on South China Sea dispute

Posted October. 29, 2015 07:45,   


South Korea`s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae on Wednesday urged the United States and China to settle the escalating military tension in the South China Sea "peacefully in accordance with international norms." It was Seoul`s official reaction to the mounting military tensions between the two great powers following a U.S. naval vessel`s entry into what China claims to be a 12-nautical-mile territorial limit around China`s man-made islands in the South China Sea. The reaction was not voluntary but came as an unwilling answer to reporters` questions. In addition, it was so vague that one cannot see which side Seoul is standing closer to.

Just beneath the South China Sea disputes is a power game between the two powers. China is seeking to become hegemony by extending its maritime domination, while the United States is trying to maintain its strategic superiority in Asia by checking China`s rise. Under the situation, the Park Geun-hye administration, which is maintaining good relations with Beijing, could find it difficult to take one side between the U.S. ally and China. However, it is questionable how long such ambiguity will work.

At a joint news conference after a recent South Korea-U.S. summit, U.S. President Barack Obama said, "The only thing that we`re going to continue to insist on is that we want China to abide by international norms and rules. Where they fail to do so, we expect the Republic of Korea to speak out on that, just as we do." However, South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Byung-se lied that the two leaders did not discuss the South China Sea issue at all, only to come under severe criticisms. It was so irresponsible for Seoul`s top diplomat to take such an escapist attitude toward the issue that became reality just days later.

The South Korean government is also unsettling the public by showing an ambiguous attitude toward every issue in which the interest of Washington and Beijing collided, including Seoul`s entry into the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the proposed deployment of a U.S.-led missile defense system and participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership led by Washing and Tokyo. The South China Sea issue was caused by a change of the status quo caused by China`s turning a reef into a military base by building an artificial island. The move is also controversial under international law because it could violate the freedom of navigation. Even putting aside South Korea`s national or military interest, Seoul needs to voice stronger concerns toward China on such an issue from the perspective of maintaining international order. It is every country`s duty, not just particular ones, to abide by international norms.