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Opinion | Yoon Seok-Yeol's reckless embrace of America

By Tom Fowdy

On Saturday I visited a mini-museum in Seoul themed on the island of Dokdo, a small series of rocks and cliffs which Korea has fiercely defended its national sovereignty over amidst its territorial dispute with Japan. I was vaguely surprised that the museum had been allowed to continue to exist, especially seen as the foreign policy of the Yoon Seok Yeol presidency is now to improve ties with Japan and effectively brush historical disputes between the two countries under the carpet.

More surprising still, was the fact the museum highlighted that in 1948, the US Air Force conducted a series of bombing training missions around Dokdo island that resulted in the deaths of many Korean fishermen, I considered such as historical facts that might be scarcely acknowledged amidst the love in for the US that dominates this current, and its present leadership. As it happens, Yoon is visiting the United States today on an official state visit, having prepared the ground lavishly by attempting to unilaterally settle the wartime forced labour dispute and antagonizing China over Taiwan.

Despite South Korea's overtly pro-American stance, and nationalist antagonism that has emerged pertaining to China over cultural patents, Yoon's policies have ultimately proved to be deeply unpopular and have led to widespread disapproval from the Korean public. To say the least, Yoon is a right-wing populist, Trumpian sort of leader, with no political experience, who won political office by being controversial and aggressively opposing feminism, having exploited a dispute with President Moon Jae in while he was public prosecutor in order to put himself in the spotlight.

Having become President, his foreign policy is quite simple, to tilt towards the US and Japan, while taking a harsher approach to China, despite the overwhelming economic relationship between the two countries as neighbours, as well as unravelling the peace regime with North Korea, and sticking his nose in on Ukraine. Such of course is natural for South Korean conservatives, who stem from a traditional camp of Anti-Communism and of course are the successors of the right-wing dictatorships who governed the country from the 1950s to the 1980s, such as Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-hee. One only has to look at the unhinged supporters of such who gather in Gwanghuamun regularly, waving US and Korean flags together, and often simultaneously espouse zealous US evangelical style Christianity.

However, to take this path is a fundamental betrayal of Korean interests. First of all, the US is wilfully undermining the South Korean economy in pursuit of its crusade against China. By rewriting the global semiconductor supply chain, the US has strongarmed Korean semiconductor firms to invest in capacity in the United States, while simultaneously China's own semiconductor expansion, a forced reaction to the US technology war, is undermining South Korea's own favourable trade surplus with the US. Secondly, the United States has imposed unilateral and extraterritorial jurisdictions on Korean firms which block them from expanding in the China market, something of course which will obviously backfire. While other US protectionist policy, such as the Inflation reduction act, penalizes a wide variety of Korean industries.

When Yoon Seok Yeol began his US trip, he met with the CEO of Netflix, who pledged an additional $2.5 billion or so to invest in Korean content, a booming market. Yet if Yoon seeks to market that as the "prize" of his growing subservience to the US and the only thing he can gain for his country from such a visit, that truly leaves much to be desired. Even his one-sided grovelling to Japan over the wartime labour and comfort woman issue brought very little in terms of political concessions. On every front, he is selling out his country, and no doubt in Washington he will agree to a lengthy bilateral statement which will seek to lock South Korea into a number of anti-China commitments, such as aspirations for a "free and open Indo Pacific" and "preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan strait", and potentially, deeper cooperation with the Quad, while finally taking aim at North Korea.

None of this will ultimately serve to empower South Korea, it will make it even more a client state of the United States, who is happy for Yoon to recklessly antagonize China, North Korea and Russia simultaneously, creating a myriad of crises which will jeopardize the stability, security and prosperity of South Korea. We can only hope South Koreans will send him the same way Park Geun-Hye went amidst his staggering incompetence.

The author is a well-seasoned writer and analyst with a large portfolio related to China topics, especially in the field of politics, international relations and more. He graduated with an Msc. in Chinese Studies from Oxford University in 2018.


The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.

Read more articles by Tom Fowdy:

Opinion | Britain's China dilemma strikes again

Opinion | Overseas Chinese Police Stations - The Latest Yellow Peril Meme


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