Seoul’s diplomatic independence key to peninsula peace
With tensions on the Korean Peninsula easing, Seoul is considering lifting some of its unilateral sanctions against its northern neighbor, according to South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.
A close look at international media coverage of this issue would lead one to believe that it is easier said than done. Observers noted that the move may enlarge the rupture between Seoul and Washington or even result in a break in ties.
US President Donald Trump has already opposed the idea, saying, “They do nothing without our approval.”
This shows that the US, despite its geographical distance from the region, holds the key for peace on the Korean Peninsula. Nonetheless, this may be the biggest stumbling block to peacefully solving the nuclear crisis on the peninsula.
For a long time, South Korea has been in a subjective position in its alliance with the US and could barely exercise its diplomatic independence on the peninsula issue. The US also maintains South Korea’s wartime operational control. Its over-reliance on the US does not help South Korea pull itself out of a security dilemma. Seoul has surrendered its initiative on the peninsula to Washington.
As the main stakeholder on the peninsula, South Korea does not have the capacity to shape its own interests, but has to follow the whims of the US. That is why South Korea had to respond to US displeasure during US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to the country. Pompeo expressed dissatisfaction with an agreement reached last month between the two Koreas to reduce conventional military threats between them.
Seoul needs peace on the peninsula much more than Washington, but Washington’s policy toward the peninsula is based on its own interests, not Seoul’s. If South Korea continues to follow the US, peace on the peninsula will rest entirely in the hands of the US.
South Korea’s lack of diplomatic independence has also led to Chinese distrust, as Beijing opposes deployment of the US anti-missile system Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, touted as a security guarantee for South Korea. Nevertheless, the deployment fits the broader US strategic calculation to jeopardize China’s interests. By paying heed to Washington’s security concerns and binding itself to the Washington war chariot, Seoul has risked ruining its relations with Beijing.
South Korea has been bold about engaging with the North recently and the US should be supportive of these efforts for the sake of regional peace. The gradual withdrawal of US troops can be coordinated with the denuclearization and reunification process of the Korean Peninsula.