Last week's summit between President Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Barack Obama lacked any grand new agreement, but the meeting was still important as it laid to rest concerns over South Korea's warming of relations with China, a U.S. expert said Monday.
Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, made the remark during a discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, saying the two allies had little to announce because they had already worked out a series of issues.
"But it was still important to have the meeting to in a way affirm the realities as well as the image of the partnership. There have been a lot of questions about whether South Korea has slipped the moorings and was steaming full-speed toward Beijing, leaving the alliance in the wake," Klingner said.
The summit came after questions have arisen about whether South Korea is getting too close to China after Park attended a massive Chinese military parade last week that was seen as a show of force at a time of growing rivalry with the U.S.
"I think the summit ... put a lot of supposed concerns to rest," Klingner said.
During a joint news conference following Friday's summit, Obama expressed clear support for South Korea to bolster relations with China, saying it's wrong to believe good relations between Seoul and Beijing are bad for the Korea-U.S. alliance.
"Sometimes there's a perception that if President Park meets with President Xi, that must cause a problem for us," Obama said during a joint news conference with Park. "We want South Korea to have a strong relationship with China, just as we want to have a strong relationship with China."
Obama also said that there is no "contradiction" between South Korea having good relations with the U.S. and having good relations with China.
Obama added, however, that the U.S. expects South Korea to speak out if China fails to abide by international norms and rules, apparently referring to the dispute over Chinese actions in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
The two leaders also issued a joint statement dealing exclusively with North Korea's nuclear program and provocations, urging Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program and refrain from provocations like a long-range rocket launch or a nuclear test. The U.S. also reaffirmed its commitment to resolve the nuclear issue with "utmost urgency and determination."
It was the first time the countries have adopted such a North Korea-focused statement at the leaders' level.
Klingner said the summit affirmed there is "no daylight" on North Korean policy between the two countries.
Still, the expert said it would have been better if the two leaders had discussed the issue of the possible deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area missile defense system, a move that China has vehemently opposed.
"So in that case, South Korea continues to buckle under the pressure from China," he said.
Yang Chang-seok, a former senior official of South Korea's Unification Ministry, noted that the summit produced no new incentives for North Korea to return to the negotiating table.
"We need some more to get North Korea back to the table in addition to both presidents' position that if North Korea gives up nuclear weapons, we can provide extensive economic cooperation, etc.," Yang said, adding that Pyongyang renewed its demand for a peace treaty just a day after the summit.
"It would have been better, if we want more, to show North Korea some bigger carrots if North Korea comes to the dialogue table," he said. (Yonhap)