Since President Moon Jae-in was inaugurated in May, he has formulated four national security strategies: western diplomacy dealing with China; eastern diplomacy dealing with Japan; northern diplomacy focusing on the Russian Far East and China’s three northeastern provinces, Central Asia and Mongolia; and southern diplomacy focusing on Southeast Asia and India. The South Korea-US alliance plays the role of an axis in the sense that it affects the above four diplomatic strategies.
President Moon’s three “no” policies (no more deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, no participation in the US missile defense system, and no participation in a US-Japan-South Korea tripartite alliance) are core elements of his eastern and western security strategies. Some people think that these three no policies are shifting South Korea to move too closely to China at the sacrifice of the South Korea-Japan good neighborly relationship and the South Korea-US alliance. But if we closely examine these three policies carefully, we can find they are to clarify and reconfirm the nature and purpose of the Korea-US alliance.
The freeze on the deployment of THAAD is to eradicate China’s concern for its possible impact on the Chinese nuclear and missile defense system. South Korea should clearly tell China that THAAD is exclusively to defend South Korea from North Korea’s potential nuclear attacks and therefore there is no need for THAAD if North Korea gives up its nuclear program. On the other hand, South Korea’s participation in the US global MD program is beyond the purpose of the US-South Korea alliance, which is primarily to defend South Korea from North Korea and therefore requires a South Korea-US bilateral MD program rather than the US global MD program.
South Korea also does not need a South Korea-US-Japan tripartite alliance because the South Korea-US bilateral alliance is enough to protect South Korea from North Korean aggression. However, the three countries can maintain a close security cooperation mechanism. Geopolitically and economically, Korea is destined to maintain an equidistant policy toward China and Japan and, if necessary, to play one off against the other.
The new government’s northern diplomacy was officially announced by President Moon at the Eastern Economic Forum on Sept. 7.
His northern diplomacy focuses on the Far East and Eurasia. South Korea, Russia, China, Mongolia and Eurasian countries are involved. South Korea, Russia, China and Mongolia have different interests and promote different plans: Russia pursues a new eastern policy to develop the Far East and establish a Eurasian union; China, the “One Belt, One Road” strategy; and Mongolia, the Steppe Initiative. In such circumstances, they are, as before, negative about the Moon government’s proposal for the nine bridges project (development of gas, railroads, electricity, a North Pole maritime passage, ship-building, industrial sites, agriculture, fishing and joint cooperation for aid to North Korea). It seems that the Moon government is more interested in building a Northeast Asian community than a Eurasian community.
Perhaps, President Moon wants to pursue the idea of the Northeast Asian Community participated in by the four powers and the two Koreas promoted by former presidents Kim Dae-Jung and Rho Moo-Hyun, through which he can promote peace and Korean reunification better and pursue a balanced diplomacy toward the four powers. This may be the reason why although the US, Russia and China are seeking to establish some kind of Eurasian community, the new South Korean government has not yet expressed its own position on this matter in contrast with the previous governments.
President Moon announced South Korea’s southern strategy at the Indonesian Business Roundtable on Nov. 9.
His policy is focused on Southeast Asia and India. He said at the Roundtable that South Korea would turn the South Korea-Association of Southeast Asian Nations relationship into a relationship equivalent to that between South Korea and the four great powers. But the weight of ASEAN is not comparable to that of the four powers not only in dealing with the inter-Korean relationship and geopolitical dynamics on the Korean Peninsula, but also in terms of economic benefits.
ASEAN is a regional organization seeking to establish a Southeast Asian regional community similar to the EU and is not so much interested in security affairs outside the Southeast Asian region. There are other regional organizations in the Asia-Pacific region such as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum. They are more important for South Korea’s security strategy. South Korea has to use all these Asia-Pacific regional organizations for their support for its policy toward North Korea. But ASEAN member states, which are major participants in these organizations, tend to maintain “an impartial position” on the Korean issue. Under the circumstances, South Korea has to deal with individual member states, particularly more influential countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore rather than regional organizations.
It should be noted that not only Northeast and Southeast Asian and Pacific-rim countries, but also Oceanic and Indo-Pacific countries are participating in the abovementioned regional organizations directly and indirectly. More importantly, India, Japan, the US and Australia are committed to defend “the Indo-Pacific region” against hostile states. The Moon government does not want to participate in such a security league. This means that the geographical scope of President Moon’s southern strategy excludes the Indian Ocean. The reason is that the Indo-Pacific strategy primarily is to contain China’s military activities in the Indian Ocean. It seems that the Moon government supports China’s one overland silk-road and one maritime silk-road passing through the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
In dealing with North Korea, the US-South Korea alliance forms the hub, while the South Korea-China, South Korea-Japan, and South Korea-Russia partnerships are comparable to the spokes. As long as the divided Korea continues to exist, this strategic map is inevitable. North Korea is desperately trying to destroy this US-South Korea security axis by becoming a full-pledged nuclear power which can make North Korea equal with the US. South Korea is faced with an unprecedented security crisis.
By Park Sang-seek
Park Sang-seek is a former rector at the Graduate Institute of Peace Studies at Kyung Hee University and author of “Globalized Korea and Localized Globe.” -- Ed.