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China trust needed but priority remains on US: FM nominee

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : Jan. 8, 2024 - 15:17

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Foreign Minister nominee Cho Tae-yul speaks at his confirmation hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap) Foreign Minister nominee Cho Tae-yul speaks at his confirmation hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

Cho Tae-yul, the nominee for South Korean foreign minister, said Monday that the country should manage its relations with China in a way that does not compromise the Korea-US alliance.

Cho said the core of South Korea's approach to China is to "define its position amid the strategic competition between the US and China."

"During our response to it, the focus should be on the Korea-US alliance," Cho said during his parliamentary confirmation hearing at the National Assembly.

"I think we should handle relations with China based on the principle of not undermining the Korea-US alliance. An alliance is an alliance and a partner is a partner; I don't think a perfect and absolute equilibrium between the two can be established."

But Cho clarified that trust building will be the key to bilateral ties between Korea and China, recognizing that "there are more factors conducive to cooperation, while there are elements of conflict" between the two countries.

"I'll work toward establishing a healthy and mature relationship with China, based on mutual respect, reciprocity and shared interests," Cho said.

"I will diligently pursue cooperative projects for the future, placing a focus on enhancing trust rather than on the speed or scale of relationship development."

Seoul will carry on projects in economic domains and humanities exchanges to foster substantial cooperation and build trust with Beijing, according to Cho.

Cho said he would also "manage the Korea-Russia relationship, which has been strained due to the war in Ukraine, in a stable manner based on principles and standards that align with national interests and values."

The nominee defended the Yoon government's values-based diplomacy as "inevitable" due to the "geopolitical landscape trending toward the formation of liberal and authoritarian blocs."

"It is a new geopolitical environment where economics, security and technology are interconnected, leading to an inevitable change in the environment where countries sharing constitutional values and values of liberal democracy ultimately see their national interests aligning."

Cho notably recognized the salience of trilateral cooperation with Washington and Tokyo at the current critical juncture, which he views as a "time of great geopolitical transformation, during which the international order is undergoing seismic changes."

"The world is gradually transitioning into a jungle where the logic of power dominates," Cho told lawmakers.

The norm-based international order that has underpinned post-war peace and prosperity is being shaken, by the escalating strategic competition between the United States and China, as well as by conflicts such as the war in Ukraine, among others, according to Cho.

"I will strive to deepen and expeditiously push ahead with cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan, which has been institutionalized through the trilateral summit at Camp David," Cho said. "Through this (cooperation), I aim to promote the maintaining of peace on the Korean Peninsula and strengthening the norm-based order in the Indo-Pacific region."

Cho also affirmed that he would enhance the substance of the alliance between South Korea and the United States, which has been elevated to a global comprehensive strategic alliance, and expand the scope of this partnership.

The focal point lies in further bolstering the collaborative framework between Korea and the US, centered around the Nuclear Consultative Group, to enhance the viability of extended deterrence.

Simultaneously, Cho outlined his plan to pursue the ongoing positive trajectory in improving relations between South Korea and Japan.

Cho also said that he would adhere to the Yoon Suk Yeol government's approach in compensating the victims of Japan's wartime forced labor through the third-party reimbursement system, even in the face of ongoing dismissals by local courts.

The Yoon administration unveiled a scheme in March 2023 to provide compensation to Korean victims of Japanese wartime forced labor through a government-affiliated foundation. The foundation is designed to collect "voluntary" donations from Korean companies that benefited from the 1965 Korea-Japan Treaty, under which Japan provided $300 million in grants to Seoul.

However, local courts in South Korea have rejected the Yoon government's applications to compensate victims of forced labor.

"Given the absence of any alternative breakthrough besides the third-party reimbursement system, I am committed to exerting all efforts based on the solution," Cho said.