The Republic of Korea is stirring regional trouble to please the U.S.
Updated 11:10, 30-Apr-2023
The Republic of Korea is stirring regional trouble to please the U.S.

Editor's note: CGTN's First Voice provides instant commentary on breaking stories. The column clarifies emerging issues and better defines the news agenda, offering a Chinese perspective on the latest global events. This First Voice article is written by CGTN Special Commentator Andrew Korybko, a Moscow-based American political analyst. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily those of CGTN.

Republic of Korea (ROK) President Yoon Suk-yeol is practicing a foreign policy that isn't aligned with his country's objective national interests. In mid-April, he told Reuters that the Taiwan question is a "global issue" on par with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in reference to the latter's nuclear program and the unresolved conflict on the Korean Peninsula. This prompted an official complaint from China, whose Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong criticized him for not recognizing the one-China principle.

While some might have assumed that Yoon didn't have any intention to meddle in China's domestic affairs, he rubbished that speculation in the joint statement that he agreed to with his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden during his visit to Washington, D.C. last week to commemorate the 70th anniversary of their alliance. The document's condemnation of "unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the Indo-Pacific" and the "importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits" were clearly directed against China.

In response, the Director of Asian Affairs at the Chinese Foreign Ministry Liu Jinsong summoned a senior South Korean diplomat to explain to him the importance of Seoul respecting the one-China principle. Separately, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning denounced the ROK's agreement with the U.S. to allow the docking of American nuclear-armed submarines at its ports, warning that it "disregard[s] regional security" and "create[s] tension."

Yoon's remarks to the U.S. Congress, in which he referenced the Korean War and particularly the Battle of Lake Changjin where Chinese forces fought against U.S. Marines, were also interpreted as a jab against China. Quite clearly, the purpose of his trip is to stir regional trouble in order to please the U.S., which resulted in the impression that he was subordinating the ROK as Washington's "junior partner." This is regrettable since his country's objective national interests are to remain non-aligned amidst rising Sino-U.S. tensions.

The U.S.'s prior unipolar hegemony is in decline, but instead of accepting this irreversible historical process and subsequently exploring what peaceful role it can play in the emerging multipolar world order, American policymakers are destabilizing the world out of spite. They desperately hope that their country can exploit the chaos that it's creating in order to retain its leading position over global affairs, to which end the U.S. is fighting a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine while simultaneously trying to "contain" China.

Activists stage a protest in Seoul, calling for the South Korean government to rule out military support to Ukraine, April 22, 2023. /CFP
Activists stage a protest in Seoul, calling for the South Korean government to rule out military support to Ukraine, April 22, 2023. /CFP

Activists stage a protest in Seoul, calling for the South Korean government to rule out military support to Ukraine, April 22, 2023. /CFP

Both pillars of its Eurasian grand strategy are relevant to the ROK right now. Regarding the first, Yoon remained uncommitted to the U.S.'s previously reported demand that it dispatches lethal aid to Ukraine. His reservations might be partially due to former Russian President and incumbent Deputy Chair of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev's earlier warning that Moscow might arm the DPRK with modern weapons if Seoul arms Ukraine.

By contrast, Yoon just carried out a spree of anti-Chinese provocations over the course of a single week. He falsely described China's internal affairs as a "global issue," signed off on a joint statement with the U.S. that includes language clearly directed against China, agreed to let American nuclear-armed submarines dock in his country's ports, and referenced an episode in the Korean War for the implied purpose of fanning Sinophobia in his host's halls of power.

This sequence of events dispels any doubts about Yoon's foreign policy, which advances the U.S.'s zero-sum interests at the expense of the ROK's objective national ones by stirring regional trouble with its top trade partner, China. By subordinating his country to the declining unipolar hegemon, he's dangerously placing Seoul on the trajectory of joining Washington's anti-Chinese schemes.

In the very near future, the ROK might even establish some sort of relationship with AUKUS. The military bloc between Australia, the UK and the U.S. is regarded by observers as the core of a potential NATO-like structure for "containing" China. There was already speculation that other countries could join these three countries in some capacity or other, even if they don't participate in sharing nuclear technology. Yoon's spree of anti-Chinese provocations over the past week suggests that he might be flirting with this scenario.

If that's the case, then he'd do well to reconsider, exactly as he seems to have done with respect to holding off on arming Ukraine for the timing at least. Yoon has already inflicted enormous damage to his country's national interests with his irresponsible rhetoric and his aforementioned submarine agreement with the U.S., but it's not irreparable and relations with China could still improve if he has the will.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.)

Search Trends