At CSIS forum, experts survey 'more tense' geopolitical landscape

이준혁 입력 2022. 12. 1. 18:43 수정 2022. 12. 5. 10:56
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U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Washington does not view trade with Korea and support for U.S.-based production as a "zero-sum game," and that the IRA can become a "win-win."

"We believe that the IRA will stimulate and drive massive growth and industries in which [South Korean] companies have a huge advantage, and will as a result benefit the Korean economy and Korean growth," Sullivan said, adding that Washington views support for U.S.-based manufacturing as "growing the pie for clean energy investments, and not splitting it up."

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Cooperation between the United States and South Korea is key to resolving Seoul's worries over the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a White House official said at the JoongAng – CSIS Forum in Seoul on Thursday.
From left: former Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, CSIS President John Hamre, Prof. Kim Jae-cheol, Foreign Affairs Editor Daniel Kurtz-Phelan and Prof. Choi Wooseon discuss U.S. foreign policy at the JoongAng-CSIS Forum ″The Alliance in Turbulent Times″ at the Shilla Hotel in Jung District, central Seoul on Thursday. [WOO SANG-JO]

Cooperation between the United States and South Korea is key to resolving Seoul's worries over the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a White House official said at the JoongAng – CSIS Forum in Seoul on Thursday.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Washington does not view trade with Korea and support for U.S.-based production as a “zero-sum game,” and that the IRA can become a “win-win.”

The forum, co-hosted by the JoongAng Ilbo and the Council on Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), took place at the Shilla Hotel in Jung District, central Seoul and revolved around the theme “The Alliance in Turbulent Times.”

Discussions dealt with North Korean military threats, deepening tensions between the United States and China, as well as the potential economic costs for Seoul as it faces pressure to align with Washington's efforts to constrain Beijing

The conference was opened by JoongAng Holdings Chairman Hong Seok-hyun and CSIS President John Hamre, with congratulatory remarks by Foreign Minister Park Jin and U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg and a keynote speech by U.S. National Security Advisor Sullivan.

Noting that security issues surrounding the Korean Peninsula had become “more tense and complicated than any time in the past,” Hong called the “common front” presented by China, Russia and North Korea as the “new challenge faced by South Korean diplomacy.”

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks via video livestream at the JoongAng-CSIS Forum on Thursday. [WOO SANG-JO]

Speaking via video livestream, Sullivan said the United States is working with South Korea and Japan to develop an “effective mix of tangible measures” to strengthen the extended deterrence commitment to both allies.

Sullivan noted such measures included a “more visible regional presence of U.S. strategic capabilities” and talks through the Seoul-Washington Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG), a bilateral working group of ministers revived in September 2021 as a channel for the allies to utilize their combined diplomatic, military and strategic capabilities to bolster extended deterrence against North Korea.

The credibility of the extended U.S. nuclear deterrent has emerged as a growing point of concern in South Korea, where politicians, especially from the conservative People Power Party, have suggested the country should develop its own nuclear weapons, push for the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons on the peninsula or try to negotiate a NATO-style nuclear weapons-sharing arrangement with the United States.

But Sullivan declined to provide more specifics of how extended deterrence might be enhanced, only saying that the leaders of South Korea and the United States spent “a considerable amount of time talking through the extended deterrence issue” at a bilateral summit in Cambodia last month.

Sullivan said that Washington would pursue “deeper deliberations with allies on sensitive nuclear weapons issues, both in bilateral format and in multilateral formats,” adding that although increased trilateral cooperation between South Korea, the United States and Japan is a necessary response to the North’s escalating military threats, Washington does not bear “hostile intent” toward Pyongyang.

Sullivan also said Washington’s talks with Seoul and Tokyo are guided by U.S. President Joe Biden’s commitment to engage in “more cooperative decision-making” involving the allies, and that South Korea’s concerns about the IRA could be resolved if the two countries “effectively work together to ensure it is a win-win.

“We believe that the IRA will stimulate and drive massive growth and industries in which [South Korean] companies have a huge advantage, and will as a result benefit the Korean economy and Korean growth,” Sullivan said, adding that Washington views support for U.S.-based manufacturing as “growing the pie for clean energy investments, and not splitting it up.”

The act, signed into law by Biden, has raised concern that South Korean automakers could lose out in the U.S. market due to a tax credit provision for electric vehicles assembled in North America.

But Hamre noted during a morning discussion panel that he “did not get the impression” in discussions with South Korean officials that U.S. policymakers had consulted with allies on measures designed to constrain China.

Noting that both the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States had become “parochial” by blaming the country’s problems and their constituents’ “grievances” on China, Hamre said Biden’s stated “foreign policy for the middle class” rang of “protectionism.”

“The IRA, the infrastructure bill and the chips alliance — all these sound like a parochial protectionist effort to protect the [U.S.] middle class,” Hamre observed, referring to the U.S.-led effort to consolidate and protect semiconductor supply chains involving Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.

“Our South Korean friends feel considerable anxiety about the U.S. impulse to compete with China, but is not strategically designed,” Hamre said, adding that it appears to him that “the United States is increasingly moving toward a unilateral policy [to contain China] and everyone else has to figure out how to deal with it.”

This observation was echoed by Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, editor of Foreign Affairs, who observed that both major U.S. parties were “racing to outdo each other” in being hardline towards China while also becoming “more reluctant to link security cooperation with allies to cooperation on trade and market access.”

Although Sullivan summarized the U.S. strategy regarding China as “invest, align and compete” — that is, to invest in fields where the United States holds a technological advantage, align with allies and work in cooperation and maintain U.S. dominance in competition with China — panelist Prof. Kim Jae-cheol of the Catholic University of Korea expressed Seoul’s concern that the Biden administration has not spelled out an “endgame” to competition with Beijing.

“Regional allies are concerned this kind of competition could be excessive,” Kim said, adding that it was in South Korea’s interest that “strengthening its alliance with the United States should not appear anti-China.”

But regardless of how South Korea approaches U.S.-China tensions, CSIS Senior Vice President Victor Cha said it was unlikely that China would help the United States pursue its stated goal of denuclearizing North Korea, or even restrain the North from conducting a seventh nuclear test.

“For China, a seventh nuclear test [by North Korea] is the price the United States pays for carrying on this competition with China,” Cha said, noting that China had become “transactional” in its approach to the North Korean threat.

“The Chinese perspective is essentially, ‘We’re not going to help you as long as you maintain this policy towards us,’” Cha said, adding that “the days when there was a widespread belief that the United States and China both believed in a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula are long gone.”

Cha served as Washington's top North Korea policy advisor under former President George W. Bush.

Cha also predicted that once the North does conduct a seventh nuclear test, there would be a “greater cohering between China, Russia and North Korea,” and that Moscow and Beijing would oppose any action at the United Nations to punish Pyongyang for such a test.

The former North Korea advisor also suggested that Russia had contributed to the “leapfrogging” of the advances in Pyongyang’s missile program since 2017, which he characterized “as nothing short of astounding, given previous successive failures.”

Cha suggested the tangible advances in North Korea’s missile program, and especially its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), were at the root of South Korean anxiety over extended deterrence, despite a long list of multiple measures and exercises to signal Washington’s commitment to Seoul’s protection.

“The diagnosis we’ve heard from South Koreans is that the situation has fundamentally changed, and that the list does not do enough to address their concerns.”

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]

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