Seoul’s balancing act between Washington and Beijing will face another tricky test at the upcoming G7 Summit as it will likely be a meeting where world leaders will facilitate an initiative to contain China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).
Korea, along with India and Australia, have been invited as a guest country to the summit slated for June 11 to 13.
The South has been exercising a balancing act between the U.S. and China amid the two superpowers rivalry, although during the summit between President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden, Seoul showed signs of tilting toward Washington.
Against this backdrop, the upcoming leaders’ meeting in Cornwall, the United Kingdom, will be another opportunity for Seoul to join the Washington-led initiative against Beijing, the experts said.
Recent overseas reports, citing sources familiar with the matter said the G7 Countries; Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. plan to launch a green alternative to the BRI.
The initiative, thought to be called the “Clean Green Initiative,” was initially raised by the U.S., as an alternative to the BRI. In a March phone conversation between Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the former suggested democratic countries should create an infrastructure plan to rival the BRI, and the initiative will likely see a framework suggested during the G7 summit.
The BRI is a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure development plan but is being interpreted by the West as an attempt by China to spread its influence to neighboring countries through loans and investments, as it often creates debt dependency among the concerned nations.
For example, Sri Lanka used Chinese loans to develop a port in Hambantota but ended up leasing it to China Merchants Port for 99 years. Montenegro, which is a NATO member, also used a Chinese loan for a highway, but is struggling to repay it, and has asked the European Union for help.
In a response, the U.S. has been exercising indirect pressure to its allies and friendly nations to join its anti-China campaign.
In a communique after the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers Meeting last month, participants called on China to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms,” directly mentioning the issues of Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, which raised anger in Beijing.
Such a movement is also stretching to Seoul as well. During a virtual NATO foreign ministerial meeting June 1, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken encouraged NATO to deepen its cooperation with Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Korea, stating that the U.S. and NATO should be capable of confronting systemic challenges from Russia and China.
Japanese media outlets including the Yomiuri and Mainichi Shimbun have already reported that the U.S. is pushing a trilateral meeting of Korea, the U.S. and Japan during or after the G7 summit to address regional security issues. Cheong Wa Dae refused to confirm this.
“As an invited country, Korea’s role would be limited at the G7 summit, but it country appears to have been invited so as to become part of an anti-China axis with Washington and Tokyo,” said Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University’s Department of North Korea Studies.
“One of the reasons why Korea was invited to the G7 summit is because the country is not joining the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue). … Given Seoul’s limited role in the G7, it may not amplify its presence in the meeting, but may sign on to a statement or agreement after the summit.”
The Quad is an unofficial strategic forum comprised of Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. which is viewed as a vehicle to contain an assertive China.
Such a movement pressures Seoul, whose largest trading partner is Beijing.
During a meeting in April, Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi agreed to continuously explore cooperation between Korea’s regional policy initiatives and the BRI.
Given Korea faced economic retaliation from China in 2017 over the deployment of a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery here, there have been fears that Seoul’s joining of any anti-Beijing campaign could deal a hefty blow to the domestic economy.
“Korea has to find answers from the Japan-China relationship,” Nam said. “While maintaining thorny diplomatic relations with Japan, China has been approving Japanese computer game titles, while freezing those developed by Korean companies. Seoul has to enhance its to separate business and security in its relations with Beijing.”