(News Focus) Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy envisions closer triangular cooperation with South Korea and Japan to confront China and North Korea

SEOUL, 15 Feb. (Yonhap) — U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration appears poised to cement trilateral cooperation with Asian allies South Korea and Japan as key leverage to counter China’s assertiveness and nuclear ambitions. of North Korea as part of its recently unveiled strategy. Indo-Pacific strategy, analysts said on Tuesday.

Last week, the White House released a 19-page document focusing on harnessing the “collective capacity” of a network of regional allies and partners, which it touted as “our greatest strength.” asymmetric” amid an escalation of Sino-US action. rivalry.

The expanded tripartite cooperation with Seoul and Tokyo is part of the strategy’s “Indo-Pacific Action Plan” to be pursued in the “next 12 to 24 months” – an apparent call for the two allies to overcome their historic enmity and refocus on shared challenges.

The fleshed-out strategy came as Japan’s bid for UNESCO heritage designation of a mine linked to wartime forced labor added to tensions between Seoul and Tokyo already caught up in simmering territorial and historical disputes. since a long time.

“At the center of the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy is to restore regional alliances and promote solidarity among them in order to control the rise of China,” said Park Won-gon, professor of North American studies. Koreans at Ewha Womans University.

“Given the central pillars of security and economy in the strategy, there is no doubt that South Korea and Japan are the Indo-Pacific allies well placed to support these pillars – a reason for which the United States must galvanize trilateral cooperation,” he added. .

For its security pillar, the strategy uses a set of multilateral mechanisms, such as the tripartite cooperation with South Korea and Japan and the Quad forum involving the United States, India, Australia and Japan, as well that the AUKUS platform made up of the United States, Great Britain and Australia.

On the economic pillar, the document unveiled Washington’s still sketchy plan to propose an “Indo-Pacific economic framework” for cooperation with partners on trade, digital economies, cross-border data flows and blockchains. “resilient and secure” supplies.

Except for shared toughness toward China, Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy stood in stark contrast to the “America-first” approach of his predecessor, Donald Trump, who critics said smacks of isolationism. and alienated allies.

Washington’s current pursuit of broad-based regional cooperation comes as it strives to prevail in an increasingly acrimonious rivalry with China over maritime security, technological leadership, trade and power. other fronts.

“We seek to build collective capacity to meet 21st century challenges and seize opportunities, whether related to climate, PRC behavior or preparing for and recovering from the next pandemic.” , a senior Washington official said on condition of anonymity last Friday, referring to China by its official name, the People’s Republic of China.

The inclusion of tripartite cooperation with Seoul and Tokyo in the strategy has raised speculation that Washington may be considering a more formalized mode of cooperation with Asian allies – a goal long crippled by their historic animosity.

Despite the recent flare-up in historic tensions between Asian allies, this signals Washington’s intention to double down on that goal, underscoring the need for a united front against Pyongyang.

The desired unity of purpose was on full display on Saturday when top diplomats from South Korea, the United States and Japan – Chung Eui-yong, Antony Blinken and Yoshimasa Hayashi – met in Hawaii over the weekend in response. to seven rounds of missile tests last month.

America’s emphatic call for solidarity has also come as it seeks to rally support from allies and partners to confront the impending Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The stakes are high for the US in the stalemate over Ukraine, as an escalation into full-scale war could mean a failure of deterrence for America and its allies, and could lead to another forceful reshuffle of the European map similar to that caused by Moscow in 2014. annexation of Crimea.

“The Secretary and the Foreign Ministers discussed the reinforcement of the Russian military along Ukraine’s borders and shared unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the three said. countries in a joint statement following the talks in Hawaii. “They pledged to work closely together to deter further Russian escalation.”

Apparently, however, the US push for trilateral cooperation with the South and Japan seems to put more emphasis on the North Korean challenge.

“Virtually all major Indo-Pacific challenges require close cooperation among U.S. allies and partners, especially Japan and the Republic of Korea,” the document said. “We will continue to cooperate closely through trilateral channels on the DPRK.”

Republic of Korea and DPRK represent the official names of South Korea and North Korea: the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Beyond the security front, the United States will also work with South Korea and Japan on regional development and infrastructure, critical technologies and supply chain issues, among others, he said. he adds.

“The United States cannot help but stress, at least rhetorically, the importance of expanded cooperation with Asian allies beyond the hitherto security-centric partnership, while its rivalry with China is unfolding in terms of values, ideology and in all areas,” Kim Tae-hyung said. , a professor of international politics at Soongsil University, said.

Addressing Pyongyang’s “nuclear and missile destabilization” programs, the strategy document says Washington will continue to seek “serious and sustained” dialogue while strengthening extensive deterrence to respond to North Korean provocations and remaining “ready to deter — and, if necessary, defeat — any aggression against the United States and our allies.”

Extended deterrence signifies the stated commitment of the United States to mobilize a full range of military capabilities, both nuclear and conventional, to counter North Korean aggression.

The Biden administration’s strategy poses a key geopolitical question to the next South Korean government to be launched in May: how will it modulate the depth and breadth of tripartite cooperation with the United States and Japan?

“Along with how to deal with North Korean threats, the question of how Seoul is strengthening trilateral cooperation with Washington and Tokyo will be a priority issue for the next administration in Seoul, as it is also related to relations with China. “Shin Bum-Cheol, director of diplomacy and security at the Research Institute for Economy and Society, said.

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