December 29, 2022
SEOUL – South Korea is now a global player among Indo-Pacific countries that has to do its part for freedom, peace and prosperity in the region in order to take the next leap, Foreign Minister Park Jin said Wednesday. The minister made the remarks while unveiling the country’s Indo-Pacific strategy — the latest foreign policy summarizing the steps needed to expand Korea’s global imprint.
The plan presented by the Yoon Suk-yeol administration, promised back in May when it took power, comes amid a global rush to gain an advantage in a region dominated by the growing US-China rivalry over strategic economic as well as security interests.
“Without a doubt, we are living in an era of a burgeoning Indo-Pacific, home to 65 percent of the world’s population, 62 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and 46 percent of international trade,” Park said at a conference held to discuss the strategy in Seoul.
South Korea, whose elevated international standing now demands it take a bigger role, has to tackle global issues head-on, urge countries for cooperation and lead them by example, Park said. He noted Korea will help establish a rules-based international order that respects the rule of law and human rights by encouraging inclusiveness, trust and reciprocity.
But the plan, which includes working with countries in as far as Europe and Central and South America, still faces doubts from critics. They question not only the effectiveness of such far-reaching outreach but the fact that the plan parrots the US’ campaign, which seeks a “free and open” Indo-Pacific rooted in international norms as part of efforts to put checks on an increasingly assertive China.
Seoul’s Foreign Ministry openly dismissed such concerns, saying the South Korean version of a “free, peaceful and prosperous” Indo-Pacific leaves room for engagement with China and Japan. A senior official at Yoon’s office emphasized this difference on Wednesday, saying Seoul and Beijing will continue to strengthen ties and sidelining Beijing’s cooperation would not take place.
And South Korea had discussed the plan with many other countries including China in advance to fine-tune details, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official with knowledge of the matter. The official added that the latest strategy is an upgrade to the previous foreign policy endorsed by Yoon’s predecessor Moon Jae-in.
Former President Moon earlier revealed what he called the New Southern Policy, an initiative aimed at building stronger ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The Foreign Ministry said the 10-nation economic coalition will continue to play a critical role in implementing Yoon’s approach to the Indo-Pacific region.
Still, critics point to the fact that the strategy could drive a wedge between Seoul and Beijing, which sees any campaign encompassing the Indo-Pacific region as potentially threatening to its interests, especially if such a campaign invites the US’ endorsement.
Washington welcomed Seoul’s strategy shortly after it was made public, with national security advisor Jake Sullivan openly calling the two allies locked in a “shared commitment to the region’s security and growing prosperity.”
Park Won-gon, a professor at Ewha Womans University, said Yoon’s latest plan is essentially an endorsement of what the US is trying to achieve in the region, which is setting up a coalition of democracies against authoritarian regimes.
“However you spin it, the plan signals that Korea is on board with the US,” Park said.