South Korea’s Pivot to Conflict

President Yoon is staking the country’s security and economic future on a declining U.S.-led global order, write Dae-Han Song and Alice Kim.

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol greeting President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden in Washington on April 26. (White House/Adam Schultz)

By Dae-Han Song and Alice Kim
Peoples Dispatch

South Korea’s far-right President Yoon Suk Yeol is rushing South Korea headlong into the middle of the new Cold War that the United States is waging against China.

Yoon’s aspiration to position South Korea as a “global pivotal state” is turning it into a bigger cog in the U.S. war machine and stakes South Korea’s security and economic future on a declining U.S.-led global order.

Yoon’s support of the U.S. global order has taken him on a flurry of visits and meetings around the world from the virtual Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) summit to the NATO summit in Madrid to high-level meetings in Japan and the United States.

Most recently on his April 26 U.S. visit, Yoon and President Joe Biden announced the “Washington Declaration” to deploy U.S. nuclear-armed submarines to South Korea — reintroducing U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea after 40 years.

When viewed against North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons as a strategic deterrent, these weapons in South Korea will more likely fuel a nuclear arms race rather than check North Korea’s nuclear program.

As former South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun observed, four out of North Korea’s six nuclear tests occurred in response to the hardline stance of conservative South Korean administrations that refused to dialogue with North Korea.

Ultimately, Yoon’s actions are putting South Korea on a dangerous path that further destabilizes inter-Korean relations and antagonizes China, its biggest trading partner.

The move also forsakes the Korean government’s duty to advocate for reparations from Japan for Koreans exploited under Japanese colonialism and to prevent the discharge of radioactive waste from the Fukushima nuclear reactor, which lies upstream from South Korea.

Yoon’s ‘Global Pivotal State’

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol arriving at NATO summit Madrid, June 29, 2022. (NATO)

The alarming return of U.S. nuclear weapons follows Yoon’s posturing to develop nuclear weapons in South Korea this past January as part of his evolving extremist hardline North Korea policy.

More broadly, it forms part of Yoon’s greater foreign policy agenda of inserting South Korea in the security architecture of the U.S.’ anti-China Asia-Pacific grand strategy.

The Yoon administration’s “Strategy for a Free, Peaceful and Prosperous Indo-Pacific Region,” like his recent activities, follows closely from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy, with the goal of building and enforcing a U.S.-led “rules-based order” in the region with “like-minded allies” to contain China.

For all its declarations of fairness and playing by the rules, this U.S.-dominated “rules-based order” is at odds with the actual multipolar world taking shape around the world as well as the multilateral nature of the internationally agreed-upon U.N.-based order.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visiting South Korea to meet with President Yoon Suk Yeol on Jan. 30. (NATO)

The United States has been leading the creation of regional minilateral bodies such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) or the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework as part of its “hybrid war against China” and engaging in unilateral aggression toward China in the form of “military, economic, information, and military warfare.” 

For example, the United States is setting the stage to dispute China’s actions in the South China Sea not through the U.N.’s Law of the Sea Convention, which the United States has not signed, but rather through the Indo-Pacific security framework. This allows the United States to target China’s actions while exempting its own naval operations from the oversight of “global bureaucrats”—i.e., the U.N.

Furthermore, despite calling for an “open” and “free” Indo-Pacific, the United States is waging a “chip war” by pressuring its Indo-Pacific allies to impede China’s access to semiconductor chips, one of the world’s most critical high-tech resources today.

[Related: You Are Reading This Thanks to Semiconductors]

The Yoon administration has been contributing to the buildup and reinforcement of this “rules-based order” through its participation in the Indo-Pacific framework, global NATO and by consolidating the U.S.-Japan-South Korea trilateral military alliance.

In May 2022, a few weeks into his term, Yoon participated virtually in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework meeting. In December, the administration adopted its own Indo-Pacific Strategy which committed to “stabilize supply chains of strategic resources” and “seek cooperation with partners with whom we share values,” — i.e., IPEF states. South Korea is now being recruited into the U.S. chip war against China.

U.S. President Joe Biden, joined by Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a launch event for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, May 23, 2022, in Tokyo. (White House, Adam Schultz)

In June 2022, the participation of South Korea (including Yoon’s establishment of a NATO diplomatic mission) and three other Asia-Pacific states in a NATO meeting expanded NATO’s reach from the North Atlantic into the Pacific.

[Related: US-South Korea Provocations in the Pacific]

This year, Yoon paved the way toward consolidating the U.S.-Japan-South Korea trilateral alliance by forgoing demands that Japan take responsibility for its colonial exploitation of Korean workers.

Then, during his March visit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, he resumed the controversial 2016 General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) intelligence-sharing pact, laying the groundwork for direct military coordination between South Korea and Japan.

In April, U.S., Japanese, and South Korean officials met and agreed to hold missile defense and anti-submarine exercises to counter North Korea and “promote peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region,” with special emphasis on “peace and security in the Taiwan Strait.”

As a further show of commitment to the U.S. global war strategy, in an April 19 Reuters interview, Yoon reversed his position on Ukraine and raised the possibility of sending weapons, and exacerbated the U.S.’ provocations in Taiwan vis-a-vis the One China principle, to the ire of Chinese officials.

A Pivot Toward Peace

Activists in South Korea and abroad have been ceaselessly working toward peace on the peninsula, with key struggles waged along the sites of U.S. military installations in the Asia-Pacific region encircling China, such as the construction of the military naval base in Gangjeong village.

They have also been part of long-standing transnational activism to procure a peace treaty for the Korean War.

As these activists and U.S. scholar Noam Chomsky have recently reiterated in the face of the April 26 U.S.-South Korea nuclear weapons deal, only a peace treaty ending the Korean War would lay the basis for denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, bring an end to the U.S. military occupation of South Korea and move toward peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

To continue building exchange, dialogue and solidarity, and pivot the region toward peace, this May 16, Justice Party National Assembly members along with the International Strategy Center and other civil society organizations in South Korea, the United States, and Japan will be organizing an International Forum for Peace in Northeast Asia and Against a New Cold War Order.

Dae-Han Song is in charge of the networking team at the International Strategy Center and is a part of the No Cold War collective. 

Alice S. Kim received her PhD from the Rhetoric Department at UC Berkeley and is a writer, researcher, and translator living in Seoul. Her publications include “The ‘Vietnamese’ Skirt and Other Wartime Myths” in The Vietnam War in the Pacific World (UNC Press, 2022) and “Left Out: People’s Solidarity for Social Progress and the Evolution of Minjung After Authoritarianism,” in South Korean Social Movements (Routledge, 2011).

This article was produced by Globetrotter and is from Peoples Dispatch.  

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

9 comments for “South Korea’s Pivot to Conflict

  1. Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
    May 11, 2023 at 23:58

    Far from forgeting history, American elites are quite well versed in it and the Anglo-Saxon readings of it. The Banana Club along and off China’s eastern seaboard are plausibly nervous and looking to their US patron to brace on and stand up for them. Their nervousness is understandable given the US’ performance in Syria and now Ukraine. But what are the relevant lessons that the US offer via their history : enticing and lureing the enemy in to deliver a delayed but monsterous blow; they did it to the Spanish in Latin America and across the Pacific then later they repeated it similarly on the Japanese. Now historically informed they aspire to extend the same to Russia and China in any order. Russian interest is already being drawn out to two extremities and China is being lured across the Pacific. The only thing standing in the way of history repeating itself in the future is the heightened and rapidly increasing security preparedness of BOTH Russia and China. Surely, the Bananas can be a bit more patient but it may impose a bloody cost on them too though !

  2. Anon
    May 10, 2023 at 15:32

    Could Never vote for Preceding POTUS… But… N. Korea visit (compared to chest-thump apeism current) IMO gotta speculate: Fix… or Plain Stupidity?

  3. Darryl Secret
    May 10, 2023 at 12:33

    The U$A are now goading SK, Japan and Philipines into behaving like Ukraine.
    I am having trouble believing that they cannot understand that they do not stand a chance in any coming conflict, and the Brave U$A will sail 16000 kms eastward home.

    Yeah… its looking like Ukraine 2.0.

    • CaseyG
      May 10, 2023 at 20:40

      A limerick for Darryl

      Is America still a Democracy?
      Or—have we now morphed into Hypocrisy?
      Facts—they crash willy nilly!
      Much of Congress—just silly!
      We descend —oh so fast to a Mockrisy! : 0

    • WillD
      May 10, 2023 at 22:21

      I’m having trouble believing that they haven’t realised the high risk of jumping into bed with the ailing, failing US as being very high that

      a) the anti-China venture will fail, just like the anti-Russia one has failed,
      b) the US will not honour its promises and agreements, and fall short in its delivery of military materiel and financial support, and
      c) that the US will abandon them after it all falls apart, leaving them far worse off than they are now.

      How can they not see that they will be almost certainly on the losing side of any conflict in that region?

  4. Robert Sinuhe
    May 10, 2023 at 12:25

    To quote Fred Astaire’s comment in the movie, “On The Beach”– “The fault of humanity is to attempt to protect themselves with weapons they could not possibly use.” It seems our congress and the president should spend more time viewing movies instead of falling into mindless actions that have nothing to do with defense.

  5. Elial
    May 10, 2023 at 10:19

    South Korea’s independence from the US is tenuous at best. The Korean armed forces fall under the command of the Pentagon and not the Korean government.

    What more can be said, other than that South Korea has been under continuous foreign occupation for over a hundred years, first by Japan and then by the US. The beef that North Korea has is not with its brethren in South Korea, but with the enemy that bombed them into the Stone Age 70 years ago still being on the Korean Peninsula.

  6. peter mcloughlin
    May 10, 2023 at 08:42

    It is important to see the growing crisis on the Korean Peninsula as a symptom of the malaise that is dragging humanity to WW III. This is not a “new Cold War”. That could imply the same outcome as the original Cold War: this is leading to the outcome that the Cold War was meant to prevent. If we do not understand history we will keep repeating it.

  7. James White
    May 10, 2023 at 08:25

    The debacle in Ukraine has shown the world what comes of smaller nations when they subjugate their national interests in exchange for the promise of future military protection from the U.S. There must be at least a few people in European countries who have begun to wonder how they became little more than U.S. vassal states despite never having ever voted in favor of it. Caveat Emptor.

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