By Lisa Bian and Sean Tseng
The outcome of the U.S.-South Korea summit and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s recent remarks has drawn criticism and threat from Chinese state-run media.
For several days following the U.S.-Korea summit, Chinese state media collectively denounced the signing of the Washington Declaration, a set of U.S. deterrence measures against potential North Korean aggressions.
The state-run Global Times on April 29 suggested that “if Seoul ignores warnings from China, Russia, and North Korea and completely executes U.S. order for ‘extended deterrence’ in the region, South Korea will likely face retaliation from China, Russia, and North Korea.”
The U.S.-South Korea agreement, signed by Biden and Yoon on April 26, outlines a set of U.S. extended deterrence measures, which will involve deploying U.S. strategic assets—nuclear forces—on the Korean Peninsula.
In the declaration, South Korea expressed “full confidence” in U.S. extended deterrence commitments, and Washington pledged to make “every effort” to consult with South Korea on “any possible nuclear weapons employment” in the region.
In a luncheon with a group of journalists on May 2 at the Yongsan presidential compound, Yoon was asked about Beijing’s outcry against the signing of the Washington Declaration at the U.S.-Korea summit, to which Yoon replied, “We don’t have a choice.”
“If Beijing doesn’t take part at all in the sanctions against [North Korea’s] violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions, what do they want us to do? We’re left with no choice,” he said.
“If they want to take issue with us and criticize us for adopting the Washington Declaration and upgrading our security cooperation to one that is nuclear-based, they should reduce the nuclear threat or at least abide by international law and stick to U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea,” he added, referring to the declaration outlining the new extended deterrence measures.
At a dinner with ruling party leadership that night, Yoon said that even the former South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, who was Beijing-friendly, was treated poorly when he visited China, adding that only by forming a Korea-U.S.-Japan alliance would Beijing not treat South Korea with impunity.
Key elements of the Washington Declaration, announced by Biden and Yoon on April 26, include the creation of a Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) between the two nations to strengthen extended deterrence, enhanced military cooperation, and the more frequent presence of U.S. strategic weapons on the Korean Peninsula, including strategic ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) that can carry nuclear warheads to launch ballistic missiles and more.
Kim Taewoo, former head of Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification and a former senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, told The Epoch Times on April 28 that although the Washington Declaration did not promise to deploy nuclear weapons directly on the Korean Peninsula, the Ohio-class ballistic missiles and nuclear submarines to be deployed in South Korea are extremely powerful and have a strong punitive and retaliatory effect on North Korea.
“This is a ‘good starting point’ for more U.S. nuclear weapons to be deployed around the Korean Peninsula, and in this regard, the Washington Declaration has achieved greater security gains,” Kim said.
He added that although the U.S. nuclear submarines also cover China and Russia and will be opposed by Beijing and Moscow, “South Korea has no time to worry about China and Russia in the face of the growing nuclear threats from North Korea.”
Yoon Abandons Strategic Ambiguity
An editorial published on May 3 by South Korea’s Maeil Business Newspaper said that whether relations between South Korea and China would become closer or more divergent in the future “depends entirely on the Chinese Communist Party.”
The Chosun Ilbo’s editorial praised Yoon’s position on the Taiwan Strait and that he had “begun to show his ‘outspokenness’ toward China.”
On the eve of his state visit to Washington, Yoon said that South Korea joined the international community in opposing Beijing’s attempt to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.
In an interview with Reuters on April 19, Yoon said that tensions in the Taiwan Strait “occurred because of Beijing’s attempts to change the status quo by force, and [South Korea] together with the international community absolutely oppose such a change.”
“The Taiwan issue is not simply an issue between China and Taiwan but, like the issue of North Korea, it is a global issue,” he added.
The Chosun Ilbo article added that Yoon’s administration is shifting more conservative on diplomacy and national security all across the board.
“It is inevitable for the survival of South Korea to correct the nation’s diplomatic and security, given the stalemate in South Korean diplomacy caused by pro-North Korea, pro-China, anti-Japanese, and anti-U.S. behavior of the former Moon Jae-in administration,” the editorial said.
During a dinner with the leadership of the ruling National Power Party on the evening of May 2, Yoon talked about Moon’s diplomacy with Beijing.
“How can there be such a diplomatic indiscretion?” Yoon said, referring to when Moon had to dine alone with his South Korean entourage for eight meals during a state visit to China in 2017 at the invitation of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
“What did he get from China for his Beijing-friendly policy? Did China give Moon the courtesy he deserved as a president?” Yoon added.
Meanwhile, Yoon stressed the importance of South Korea’s relations with the United States and Japan.
“If we keep a low profile, the CCP will look down on us. Only by strengthening the trilateral cooperation between South Korea, the U.S., and Japan will North Korea and China not treat us with impunity,” he said.
Beijing’s Diplomatic Faux Pas
A state visit is the highest standard of diplomatic exchange between two nations, but it was widely perceived that former South Korean President Moon Jae-in was not given the reception standard during his state visit to China in December 2017.
During his four-day, three-night visit, Moon had 10 meals, only two of which were accompanied by the Chinese leadership.
In addition, when Moon arrived at the Beijing airport on Dec. 13, 2017, he was greeted by Kong Xuanyou, at the time an assistant to the Chinese Foreign Minister, even though Moon was invited by Xi as a state guest.
On the same day, Moon attended a ceremony commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre while other top CCP leaders were not in Beijing.
During his visit, former Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi patted Moon’s arm with his left hand while they shook hands, sparking further controversies over a breach of professional etiquette.
In addition, the day after Moon arrived in Beijing, two South Korean journalists accompanying him were beaten up by Chinese police guards over trivial matters. The Chinese authorities did not express “regret” nor “condolence” to the injured but only expressed “concern.”
And Xi reportedly did not mention a word about the incident in his subsequent summit meeting with Moon.