Anti-prediction on the anticipation regarding the outcome of Yoon Suk-yeol’s visit to the United States

Yoon Suk-yeol’s US visit

A genre the author refers to as “anti-predictions” may be found in his various works. They describe the most dismal developments in the hope that others who read them would approach the situation in a different way.

In this vein, the author anxiously anticipates the key results of Yoon Suk-yeol’s visit to the United States. The crucial dates will be April 26-27, when Yoon will deliver a speech at a news conference or gala dinner, the substance and implications of which will almost certainly reshape the regional security architecture.

If and when Yoon does, it won’t matter whether he says these things under duress or out of pro-American sycophancy. As they say in Russia, a word spoken is past recalling.

In the past, the relationship between Washington and Seoul has always been rather dichotomous. On the one hand, Yoon talks about a comprehensive strategic partnership between the US and South Korea that is grounded in shared democratic values rather than political goals. And this commitment to American values is more significant than other international ties.

On the other hand, Seoul has previously endeavored to avoid escalating tensions with China and Russia and to stay out of direct conflict with them. In the case of Russia, for example, South Korea joined in with the sanctions while emphasizing that it exclusively sent nonlethal weapons to Ukraine. Even when Yoon took a step back and was forced into a corner, in an interview with Reuters, he said: “If there is a situation the international community cannot condone, such as any large-scale attack on civilians, massacre or serious violation of the laws of war, it might be difficult for us to insist only on humanitarian or financial support.” The author interpreted this as an attempt to find a last-minute justification, implying that Seoul cannot alter direction on the spur of the moment.

However, the pressure has increased, and released classified Pentagon documents show how Yoon’s advisers dreaded a situation in which the US president would call South Korea’s president and ask him a direct question: “Who are you friends with, me or the bear?” Moreover, the rules of the state visit compelled Yoon to make certain declarations reinforcing South Korea’s position as one of America’s most steadfast allies. In contrast to working meetings, where participants can argue, a summit of this type is a ceremonial affair where they don’t wash their dirty linen on public. This visit is especially significant since it coincides with the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the countries as well as the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the Republic of Korea which serves as the cornerstone for US-ROK political-military cooperation.

Even worse, nothing precludes Yoon from receiving a multi-page report on the Russian Armed Forces’ misdeeds in Ukraine upon his arrival, after which it will be discovered that the ashes of burned children necessitate the provision of armaments. Nobody will be concerned about how little this report deviates in terms of accuracy from the South Korean reporting on the DPRK’s human rights situation.

Note that the ROK media opposing the president has speculated that during his visit to the US, Yoon Suk-yeol may arrive at “ill-advised decision to extend Korea’s support for Ukraine beyond humanitarian and economic aid to encompass the much-heralded provision of lethal weaponry in return for his state visit.”

Terence Roehrig, a professor of national security and Korea expert at the US Naval War College, “strongly suspected” that this subject would be on the agenda at some time during the summit not only because of the importance of the issue, but also because of the way the issue became public. Given the sensitivity of the situation, he feels that, aside from condemnation of Russia’s behavior and declarations of support for Ukraine, there may be a few specifics in the joint statement; more likely indications would be the Korean government’s subsequent actions.

However, the prospective decision to transfer weaponry and military equipment to Ukraine is hardly the most catastrophic outcome. Several claims were made by Yoon in the above mentioned interview with Reuters that sparked the interest of the Chinese media.

Yoon once had a reputation as the only Asian leader who did not meet with Nancy Pelosi after her visit to Taiwan. This has led to rumors that Yoon Seok-yeol is fearful of upsetting China and/or that he exhibits some political independence. Now, he explained that the “increased tensions around Taiwan were due to attempts to change the status quo by force, and he opposed such a change.” He also added that “the Taiwan issue is not simply an issue between China and Taiwan but, more like the issue of North Korea, it is a global issue.”

Naturally, the interview with the ROK president resulted in comments from Chinese diplomats that were criticized as impolite in Seoul. In light of this, it’s probable that Yoon will retreat even farther during the summit, and Beijing has made it plain that it won’t let such anti-Chinese demarche go unanswered. While this is going on, US hawks have long persuaded Seoul to believe that it should be more involved in the anti-Chinese geopolitical institutions that are forming in the region and that the Chinese menace to Taiwan should be seen as a threat to South Korea as well.

Yoon then discussed inter-Korean relations in the interview, making two crucial comments. As was the case with Moon Jae-in or Roh Moo-hyun, there won’t be any summits to “show off” to voters for domestic political interests. “They used those talks ahead of elections, but ultimately inter-Korean relations were always back to square one.” Secondly, Seoul will improve its capacities for intelligence analysis, surveillance, and reconnaissance as well as create “ultra-high-performance, high-powered weapons” to combat North Korean threats. “In terms of responding to a powerful nuclear attack, I think stronger measures than what NATO has should be prepared.” Because “if a nuclear war breaks out between South and North Korea, this is probably not just a problem between the two sides, but the entire Northeast Asia would probably turn to ashes. That has to be stopped.”

The author detects a hint that despite the fact that analysts are divided in opinion what kind of superweapon Yoon had in mind, Pyongyang’s nuclear bomb can only be stopped by their own bomb. Formerly marginal, this strategy is now supported by a number of conservative leaders and a sizeable portion of the population as a whole. 56.5%of South Koreans, of whom 29.8% are extremely convinced, believe that the ROK should acquire its own nuclear weapons, according to a survey conducted by Realmeter on April 20–21, 2023.  The necessity to tackle the nuclear threat from North Korea was mentioned by 45.2% of respondents. Only 3.3% of people aspire for a US nuclear umbrella, while the majority say that nuclear parity is in the interest of the country. Others questioned whether US support in the case of a confrontation on the Korean Peninsula would be effective.

A total of 40.8% of respondents opposed having nuclear weapons, with 24% unequivocally opposing nuclear weapons in their own nation. They explained their position by possible sanctions from the international community, since South Korea is a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Additionally, there are worries that such a move may exacerbate relations with the North and spark an arms race in the area.

Yoon might suggest that in order to prevent the unfavorable American reaction to Seoul’s attempt to replace the US nuclear cover with that of the ROK, a return to the conditions of the late 1950s could be envisaged so that American nuclear weapons would be stationed on the peninsula. Additionally, it is very possible that these won’t be mines or artillery shells but rather carriers that can launch a nuclear attack against not just North Korean soil but also Chinese and Russian territory.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated on April 24 that during the summit, “We will have the presidents, the two presidents actually release a statement that deals with the question of extended deterrence, particularly in the context of the threat and the evolving threat posed by the DPRK.” “We also believe that the ROK has been a good steward of its non-proliferation obligations under the (Non-Proliferation Treaty) and will continue to do so,” Sullivan said, implying that the United States would expressly oppose the idea of South Korea creating its own nuclear weapons.  However, the concept of prolonged deterrence is about to take a decisive stride forward, and it is important to pay attention to what former US National Security Adviser John Bolton said on April 25, 2023. Bolton emphasized that in order to make Washington’s extended deterrence against North Korea “credible,” the United States should immediately transfer tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula. He stressed that such a measure would buy time for Seoul to “think long and hard” about whether it wants its own separate nuclear capability.

In summary, weapon deliveries to Ukraine, the stationing of American nuclear weapons in the ROK, active participation in anti-Chinese initiatives, and statements endorsing Taiwan all point to a dramatic shift in favor of the US. The author has highlighted multiple times that Washington’s potential to destroy Seoul is just as good, if not better, while being cognizant of all the problems that a rupture in relations with Beijing and Moscow could create to Seoul. The main thing is that value orientation takes precedence over economic or political ties, and it is what matters most. Yoon Sook-yeol most likely realizes the dangers he is taking, but there is no way out for him, and South Korea, regrettably, has no alternative but to accept “the choice between two evils.”

As a result, we are about to hear something that could restart the traditional Cold War and bloc confrontation on the Korean Peninsula. Beijing will respond angrily to both US TNW deployments in South Korea, which would be actually directed at Russia and the PRC, and to flirtations with Taiwan. Relations between Russia and South Korea in the case of arms supplies to Ukraine will also be destroyed (as Vladimir Putin promised) and the status of an “unfriendly country” after such steps will be applied to the fullest extent.

Another round of escalation could be sparked on the part of the North as well. Pyongyang interprets these words as a covert intent for aggression even though they talk of a preventative strike in the South more out of a lack of other options to thwart a North Korean missile attack should it occur (the ROK missile defense clearly lacks sufficient forces).

Of course, the author hopes that things won’t be too horrible and that Yoon might not give up so easily. As a result, on April 25, a spokesperson of the South Korea’s presidential office stated that the summit’s agenda does not include a discussion of potential South Korean weaponry supply to Ukraine.

A presidential spokesperson told reporters that Ukraine would be discussed in the context of global issues, but “on whether weapons support will be on the agenda, I will say that as of now, it will not.” This was despite White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan telling reporters the day before that Ukraine would be an important topic of conversation (though he did not go into detail about weapons assistance).  “It’s quite possible to talk about the two countries’ positions on the war in Ukraine as a global issue, and I think it’s okay for any leader of a country to do that at this point in time.”

Yoon was also interviewed by The Washington Post upon his arrival in the United States. Whereas on the one hand he claimed in connection to the ROK and the US, “It is indeed the most successful alliance in history and, above all, an alliance based on values.” On the other hand, he chose to distance himself from US pressure on the Ukrainian issue. “Of course, Ukraine is under an illegal invasion, so it is appropriate to provide a range of aid, but when it comes to how and what we will supply, we cannot but consider many direct and indirect relationships between our country and the warring countries.” Such an interview continues an old trend rather than underscores a new one. The “multitude of direct and indirect relationships” Yoon talks about is a clear hint at the state of Russian-South Korean relations. If Yoon Sook-yeol had been willing to make a breakup of his own free will, the tone of his remarks would have been different.

The crucial days will have gone by the time this piece is published, and the author may somberly note that “he was already talking about it then,” yet his optimism will endure. As we have noted, anti-predictions are written to prevent them from coming true.

Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, leading research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of China and Modern Asia at the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

Сообщение Anti-prediction on the anticipation regarding the outcome of Yoon Suk-yeol’s visit to the United States появились сначала на New Eastern Outlook.


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