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Seoul should not give up alliance with Washington in US-China spat: Nye

Joseph S. Nye speaks during a virtual seminar hosted by the Seoul-based Future Consensus Institute on Thursday. (Yonhap)
Joseph S. Nye speaks during a virtual seminar hosted by the Seoul-based Future Consensus Institute on Thursday. (Yonhap)

Caught in a spiraling spat between the US and China, South Korea should balance its strategy to maintain the alliance with its longtime ally the US and at the same time prosper from the Chinese economy, a renowned American political scientist said Thursday. 

Joseph S. Nye, Harvard University professor emeritus who served as assistant secretary of defense for international security under former US President Bill Clinton, said South Korea, sandwiched between larger countries like China and Japan, should borrow its power from a distant giant, namely the US. 

“What’s the right strategy for Korea? The answer is go to the more distant giant and borrow its power, because it won’t swallow you up. If you get too close to the powers that are right next to you, then they will have too much influence,” Nye said in a livestreamed session during a seminar hosted by the Future Consensus Institute, a Seoul-based think tank. “If you borrow your power from the distant ally like the US, you are not as likely to lose independence.”

He stressed aligning with the US is a “protection and insurance” policy, and does not mean breaking economic relations with China. 

“Quite the contrary, you want to prosper from the Chinese economy. But I would say don’t give up on your American alliance because if the Chinese find that you are dependent upon their trade and defenseless militarily, then they would have much more influence on Seoul.”

The scholar, who recently published a new book “Do Morals Matter?” stressed moral views of leaders still make a difference in international relations, despite state leaders around the world that appears to solely focus on its national interest. 

“Morals are not the opposite of serving your own national interest, but how do you define national interest. Do you define it broadly, to incorporate the interest of the others, or do you define it narrowly? And I think what we are seeing in the US is a narrow definition of national interest," he said adding he hopes the US returns to the broder definition of national interest that includes allies and multilateral institutions. 

On the ongoing spat with China, the scholar, while emphasizing there shouldn’t be an illusion that China will become a liberal society, said the relationship between Washington and Beijing should be of “cooperative rivals.” 

“You have to have cooperation and rivalry at the same time,” he said, saying cooperation is needed in areas like climate change or dealing with pandemics. “We have to learn to cooperate with China and also pursue rivalry in places where each is appropriate. I think that moral leadership for the next decade is going to have to see China in that term, not as enemy but as a rival, but also as a rival where in some places we would have to cooperate.”

(sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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