Controversy is brewing over South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s recent state visit to China and many people say his stay in China was humiliating diplomacy. However, he was in no position to be treated as a state guest as he did not take sides entirely with China with regard to the THAAD issue, which he claimed was sealed unlike what China claimed. The main purpose of the state visit was to handle China’s THAAD retaliation and China’s key interest also lied in the same issue, and this was clearly shown during his interview with the Chinese press that preceded the state visit.
Not a few South Koreans are angry about China’s retaliation concerning THAAD deployment in South Korea, which is an inevitable national security measure against the North Korean nuclear threat, and the South Korean government’s passive response to the retaliation. This is because China’s creation of an anti-South Korean sentiment by means of its state media, its pressure on South Korean companies doing business in China, and the ‘comedy’ shown during the state visit are just a mirroring of the China-centered hegemonic politics of the past.
Before the state visit, the South Korean government promised China that it would not accept the missile defense system of the United States, additional THAAD deployment in South Korea, and any trilateral military alliance with the U.S. and Japan, stirring controversy over the abandonment of sovereignty both at home and abroad and maintaining a vague stance on the controversy. This means the state visit was a nice opportunity for China to get the upper hand. During his talks with the South Korean President, Chinese President Xi Jinping mentioned the THAAD issue and succeeded in drawing agreement on the four principles including no war in the Korean Peninsula and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The South Korean government itself gave up on national security based on military options and self defense based on nuclear weapons at a critical point in time when the U.S. mentioned military options as its trump card against North Korea and even discussed redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea. The agreement with China, which is directly opposite to the pressure on the North including the United States’ military options, has added to concerns over the integrity of the South Korea-U.S. alliance and the national security of South Korea.
Under the circumstances, Washington announced the National Security Strategy (NSS), asking South Korea to remain in and reinforce the existing order led by the U.S. Washington also defined China as its military and economic rival, urged cooperation among Seoul-Wasington-Tokyo for missile defense in the Korean Peninsula, and expressed that South Korea should take part in its Indo-Pacific Strategy as its key alliance partner. This request has become another task for the South Korean government, which is negative about not the economic but security side of the Indo-Pacific Strategy while mentioning the ‘New Northern Policy’ and the ‘New Southern Policy’ sharing the same context with China’s One Belt One Road policy.
Short-sighted diplomacy resorting to nice things to hear depending on situations leads to the loss of trust and the lack of influence as the nation concerned on significant issues in the peninsula. It cannot be denied that Seoul has catered to Washington in the face of Washington and then catered to Beijing in the face of Beijing in order to satisfy both. Everyone’s friend is no one’s friend. This is evidenced by the fact that the South Korean government is currently under pressure from and neglected by both Beijing and Washington.
South Korean President Moon has had summit talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump almost each month since he took office half a year ago. Although some people are complimenting the result of his summit diplomacy, many others are pointing out the back-to-back summit talks have resulted in no improvement of South Korea’s situation or have deteriorated the situation. This is because the South Korean government’s diplomatic capabilities are insufficient and its unwavering national strategy has yet to be established. What it needs to do now is to set the priority of national interests both in the short term and in the long term and to urgently establish and uniformly execute diplomatic policy based on the priority. Still, it remains to be seen whether the government full of ideologically lopsided non-experts will be able to do so at this critical juncture. National administration led by them is like stepping on thin ice.