Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed his continued commitment to visiting South Korea this year on a phone call to President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday, said the South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae. In response, President Moon emphasized the importance of President Xi’s visit in the bilateral relations. The phone call was arranged at the request of President Xi.
The call took place as the U.S.-China tensions are escalating. It is clear that Beijing wants Seoul on its side while South Korea wants President Xi’s visit to the nation as soon as possible to resolve the conflicts caused by the deployment of THAAD. However, the Chinese state media has made no mention of President Xi’s visit and simply stated the two nations are in the same boat against the COVID-19 crisis.
It appears the tensions between the United States and China over the origins of the pandemic will spread to all the other areas. U.S. President Donald Trump argues that China is responsible for the coronavirus outbreak while threatening to impose higher tariffs on Chinese goods and requesting cooperation from allies to shift the global supply chain that is heavily dependent on China. Trump’s intention seems to go beyond waging a trade war to reestablish the global trade order. Against this backdrop, if Seoul sides with one of the two countries, it will either have to face economic retaliation or undermine the foundation of foreign security cooperation.
The U.S.-China conflicts, which are expected to continue until the U.S. presidential election scheduled in November, might have unprecedented consequences. If the tensions remain only in trade, South Korea’s economy might be able to ride them out with its renewed strength. However, if they trigger a change in international order, South Korea will be left with only few options. Being wooed by both Washington and Beijing can be a double-edged sword for Seoul: The atmosphere might provide Seoul with more room for maneuver, but it can also leave it with no room at all if anything goes wrong.
It is true that there is alliance fatigue because of President Trump’s tendency to determine the value of an ally purely based on money. South Korea is faced with a difficult choice, and we need wise foreign policies that can guide us through these trying times. The South Korean government should set a clear direction for foreign policies with the South Korea-U.S. alliance at heart, based on which, it can decide the extent of cooperation with China. This would encourage Washington and Beijing to come to the negotiating table with more realistic options rather than trying to draw us in with unrealistic expectations.