South Korea barely mentions China, signaling caution in new Indo-Pacific strategy

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South Korea put out its first strategy report for the Indo-Pacific region, which hardly mentions China and signals Seoul is seeking a cautious balance between its biggest trade partner Beijing and main military ally, the US.

The 43-page document released on Wednesday and titled the “Strategy for a Free, Peaceful, and Prosperous Indo-Pacific Region,” issued a single paragraph about relations with China.

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Beijing was called a “key partner” and the report said Seoul “will nurture a sounder and more mature relationship as we pursue shared interests based on mutual respect and reciprocity, guided by international norms and rules.”

President Yoon Suk Yeol’s government has come under pressure from Washington to comply with the Biden administration’s sweeping curbs on the sale of advanced chips to China, where major South Korean semiconductor makers have facilities. President Xi Jinping met Yoon last month seeking high-tech cooperation and called for accelerating negotiations on a trade deal.

The US welcomed the strategy report with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan saying in a statement that it “will strengthen our shared ability to advance international peace, security, and promote nuclear nonproliferation.

Yoon came into office in May pledging to take a tough line on China and has since stepped up security cooperation with the US. But his administration has not offered its full-throated support for Biden’s initiative on chips.

The report indirectly mentioned South Korea’s concerns about China’s military actions toward Taiwan, with the text saying Seoul reaffirms “the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait for the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and for the security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific."

The document called for resuming a summit among South Korea, Japan and China, which was last held in 2019. It said cooperation with Japan “is essential for fostering cooperation and solidarity among like-minded Indo-Pacific nations, in a sign Yoon is seeking to improve ties that were frosty between the neighbors before he took office.

The report also indicated South Korea planned to “gradually expand cooperation” with the Quad grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the US that is seen as a counter to China’s assertiveness in the region.

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