WASHINGTON -- South Korea's alliance with the United States is more important than its strategic partnership with China, but antagonizing Beijing will start a new Cold War on the Korean Peninsula, a special security adviser to President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday.
Speaking from Seoul, Moon Chung-in was addressing the dilemma Seoul faces in its diplomatic relations with Washington and Beijing, as tensions between the two have intensified amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"South Korea is an American ally, and we maintain a strategic cooperative partnership with China," he said during a virtual seminar hosted by the Quincy Institute and the Seoul-based East Asia Foundation. "And obviously, alliance is more important than strategic partner. Therefore, for us, our number one priority (is) under the US, but ... we are structurally dependent on China."
Moon said China accounts for 24 percent of South Korea's external trade, compared with 9 percent with the US and 7 percent with Japan.
"If we antagonize China," he said, "China can pose a military threat to us. Plus, China can support North Korea. Then, we will really have a new Cold War on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia."
Moon noted that cooperation between Washington and Beijing is critical to solving global problems, such as the coronavirus pandemic and issues of nonproliferation and climate change.
"Therefore, our hope is this: we want to maintain good relations with both countries," he said. "We are really hoping the United States and China work together."
Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation, acknowledged that China is not without fault in its response to the outbreak of COVID-19 on its soil or in its economic retaliation against South Korea for the latter's hosting of a US missile defense system.
"But do I want us to go into a Cold War? No," he said during the seminar. "I don't think it's in the US interest. I don't think it's in China's interest. And certainly, it's not in the regional interest."
Bera said he hopes the US and South Korea, along with other partner nations in the region, can resolve issues of democracy and freedom of navigation with China without having a direct confrontation.
"The countries in the region -- whether it's the Republic of Korea or Singapore or India -- they can't choose the United States or China, nor will they, because I'm going to guess China is probably Korea's largest trading partner, and it won't be either/or," he said. (Yonhap)