Seoul released its Indo-Pacific Strategy on December 28, which has been in the works for more than half a year. For this release, the ROK’s presidential office held a press conference, and its Foreign Ministry held a briefing for diplomats from relevant countries, and the scholars involved in drafting the report also held a seminar, all in a bid to help the outside world accurately understand the background and intention of the report. It indicates that Seoul has both expectations and concerns about the possible impact of the report, and China's response is probably the most concerned.
The report does have positive statements about China. Compared with the relevant reports of the US, Canada, Japan, and other countries, which often label China as a "threat", "challenge" and "disruptor of order", the ROK’s version of the Indo-Pacific Strategy regards China as "a key partner for achieving prosperity and peace in the Indo-Pacific region." Such a statement reflects the ROK's recognition of the importance of China-ROK relations, and the consideration of its own special geographical location, China's influence in the region and many other realistic factors.
In addition, some of the propositions stated in the report are similar to or in common with China's consistent position. For example, the ROK advocates "open and free trade", opposes " the overwhelming dominance of security concerns over economic issues ", supports the construction of an "inclusive" regional and international order, and stays committed to the peaceful settlement of disputes through dialogue and consultation. It is also committed to peaceful competition and cooperation with countries of different political systems. This is the most basic pursuit of the ROK as an export-oriented economy, and it is also the common aspiration of members in the region. We hope that the ROK can stick to this in the implementation process.
At the same time, its China-related statements and emphasis on China-ROK cooperation are obviously insufficient, and many awkward conditions have been added, such as the " shared interests based on mutual respect and reciprocity, guided by international norms and rules. " This demonstrates the complex mentality of the ROK as it wants to emphasize the cooperation between China and the ROK, but also fears that some countries might not be satisfied.
Although this report mentions the word "China" only once, "China" can be seen throughout the report. For example, the report opposes "unilateral change of status quo by force", "suppress and coerce" other countries, and calls for solidarity and cooperation among countries that pursue "freedom, human rights and the values of the rule of law". Of course, we are not assuming that the report targets China. But these are the usual words used by the US and other countries when slandering China. The ROK's Indo-Pacific Strategy also worries about "peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait" and claims that "peace and stability, freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea should be respected." In fact, if Seoul really cares about the peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, it can play a more important role in dissuading the US from frequent provocation.
Throughout the report, what the ROK emphasizes the most is the cooperation with the US and its allies, such as ROK-US-Japan, ROK-US-Australia, ROK-Japan-Australia-New Zealand multilateral cooperation mechanisms, as well as NATO, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue(Quad), and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. The ROK will also co-host the so-called second Summit for Democracy at the end of March 2023 for the US as a representative of democratic countries in the Indo-Pacific region.
The US has always put together small circles to exclude other countries in the name of openness and inclusiveness. The make and release of the ROK’s version of the Indo-Pacific Strategy have everything to do with the US. No wonder the White House can't wait to issue a "welcome" statement as soon as Seoul released the report.
As a neighbor of the ROK, China supports it in playing an active role in the region and the world and in realizing its grand vision of becoming a "global pivotal state". But if it really wants to become a "global pivotal state", the ROK must first cross the two thresholds of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, and it must handle its relations with neighboring countries well.
(The author is a professor and the director of the Center for Korean Peninsula Studies of the Shanghai University of International Business and Economics)
Editor's note: Originally published on huanqiu.com, this article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.