South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Friday in the Osaka G20 summit that the international community should get out of the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” where the global economy rushes toward reduced balance. His message intends to call on the United States and China to work for greater compromise rather than engaging in trade war, referring to a game theory where those blinded to their own interests end up with results that are never favorable to anyone. At the meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday, Moon said that he would not hope to be in a situation where he has to choose one over the other.
President Moon’s remarks may have been a fundamental message to both the United States, Korea’s strongest ally, and China, the largest market to Korea. However, it shows that Korea is being sandwiched between the two amid the U.S.-China trade and technology war. The G20 summit has turned out to be a battlefield where Washington vies to maximize national interests based on unilateralism and trade protectionism while Beijing keeps Washington in check in pursuit of multilateralism and free trade. Amid such tension between the two nations, Korea seems to take a step back and watch further developments with any choice being made.
The U.S.-China tensions are not a mere battle for trade and technology but a cutthroat competition for control and power in the future world order. The Trump-Xi summit today will decide whether to continue this war. Even with their joint agreement on armistice, they would not stop devising strategies for their victory. It is only the first page of an upcoming greater power struggle that will involve not only trade and technology but also cyberspace, biotech, aerospace and military security.
It may not be an easy question to choose whose side we are on. Nevertheless, the clock is ticking and it is not time to just wait and see. It is questionable whether the South Korean government has an answer to our dilemma, as which President Moon compared the current situation. We should take preemptive diplomatic action based on longer-term national strategies so that we would not end up being squeezed in the middle of their power struggle. Regrettably, South Korea has been pushed to the fringe of the foreign affairs arena without having any say.
It seems that South Korea’s diplomatic focus has been shifted from cooperation among Seoul, Washington, and Tokyo to partnership among Washington, Tokyo and New Delhi. Japan, as the G20 host country, explicitly neglects South Korea. Added to that, Seoul has led to not only differences with Washington but also Pyongyang’s ignorance toward the North’s denuclearization talks, which Seoul has been working on hard. All of this may be because we have avoided significant decision-making and lost balance while posing as a mediator. It is time to strengthen the ROK-U.S. alliance, which is the basis of our diplomacy, while aggressively broadening the horizon.