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[Hwang’s China and the World] Korea’s foreign policy, time to keep eyes on new economy and new security

Discourse with foreign policy experts

From left: professors Kim Sang-bae, Cho Kyung-hwan, Kim Youn-kyu and Hwang Jae-ho (The Korea Herald)
From left: professors Kim Sang-bae, Cho Kyung-hwan, Kim Youn-kyu and Hwang Jae-ho (The Korea Herald)

There are some fields that previous forms of Korean diplomacy could not fully cover, but had to be dealt with. Those must be the new security and new economic issues. We are facing newly emerging security issues with roots in technological innovation -- for instance, the “fourth industrial revolution.” From 5G, quantum computers, semiconductors, and other areas, existing hegemonies face a variety of new technological challenges. Technical standards are another significant confrontation. New security issues besides technology are rising to the surface, such as climate change, environment, health, quarantine, cyber terror, and so on. In the end, these areas will be as important as North Korea’s nuclear programs and the four great powers, the US, China, Japan, and Russia, that surround the Korean Peninsula. This week’s discussion invited Cho Kyung-hwan, who is a member of the presidential commission on policy Planning, professor Kim Youn-kyu from the division of international studies at Hanyang University, and professor Kim Sang-bae from Seoul National University, who is also the current president of the Korean Association of International Studies, to take a precise look into these emerging security issues.

Hwang Jaeho: Regarding the security issues that do not belong to traditional ways and types, we use several terms including human security, non-traditional security, or new security.

Cho Kyung-hwan: I would say we can distinguish this concept so-called emerging security or the new security by periods and sectors. Firstly, in periodical flow, national security or traditional security was the major priority in terms of security concepts since the end of the Cold War after World War II. From the 1990s, new security areas emerged and were established. For instance, the UN Development Program came up with stories of human security and led the changes. Secondly, we can distinguish security depending on areas and sectors. Now our daily lives are facing new and various threats that we have never experienced before. Under these circumstances, states have obligations to protect their people from the new security threats by getting involved in their lives.

Kim Youn-kyu: When we define the term emerging security or new security, it can change according to whether we will embrace the economic security issue or not. Personally speaking, the practical emerging security issues and economic security issues may be included in the definition of non-traditional security.

Kim Sang-bae: The thing is that, regardless of the terminology, emerging security or new security, the paradigm of security is changing. Currently, the spectrum and the contents of security are continuously transitioning and the actors or their roles in resolving the issues are also changing accordingly. In this context, classifying some areas into the traditional security and some as the new is practically difficult. We may have to change the way we recognize “security” from the root.

Hwang: It seems the proportion of new security in the general concept of security will expand further. How far do you expect it to stretch?

Cho: From now on, the importance of this concept “new security” will grow larger and larger. Also, since the security paradigm itself has changed, respective states must respond with a comprehensive and deep understanding of the wide spectrum of newly emerging security threats. Moreover, states need a clear counterstrategy against new security and emerging security from the state-leading presidential level. These fields must be essentially included in the president’s tasks.

Kim Y: The very surprising change in terms of the newly emerging security issues is that such trade, industrial, or enterprise issues were transferred into the sector of national security. When we see the US today, the State Department is intervening in battery and semiconductor issues, while President Biden is directly mentioning a “battery arms race” in person. Compared to the past, when the US and the Soviet Union competed through the number nuclear weapons they possessed during the Cold War, the US and China are now confronting each other with the number of semiconductor and battery factories they have today.

Kim S: The weight of emerging security will rise for sure. However, I personally consider we have to slightly change the question in order to read the current security paradigm more precisely. What is more concerning than whether the proportion of new security will grow or not is the fact that the security threats we will face from now on will be under the mechanism which works with the logic of emerging security. What we have to do is figure out how to counteract this process.

Hwang: Looking at the Huawei case, the competition for technological hegemony between the US and China is quite intense.

Kim S: The history of such conflicts, for instance, the ones that emerged from US’s sanctions on China’s telecommunication companies like Huawei, is already more than 10 years old. It just reached its peak in 2019. Since then, there is no particular report that says significant national information or data were extracted from Huawei equipment and caused any crisis in national security. Perhaps what happened surrounding Huawei can be examined as the preparation for the threat in the future, rather than the actual threat that exists today. In other words, we can see this in the context of the US’ subjective process of securing itself from the potential threat that might break out under crisis, which does not happen during peacetime. Furthermore, the US has imposed sanctions on the industries that were in charge of supplying semiconductors or components to Huawei. This eventually shook the fundamental structure of the global supply chain that both the US and China built together under globalization for the last 30-40 years. Decoupling or reshoring between the US and China followed and bilateral competition and confrontation got more severe in succession.

Kim Y: Continuing the discussion on the reorganization of the supply chain, the US is relatively weak when it comes to the newly emerging semi-conductor and battery field. Because the US is usually in charge of designing and planning, and got used to the structure of gaining benefits from technology, 70 percent of semiconductor production and 90 percent of battery production gathered in East Asia. Under such a situation, one of the great goals the US is aiming for today is to move the semiconductor and battery supply chain that is already constructed in East Asia to US territory, and to build its own independent structure.

Hwang: The geopolitical concept that we knew is changing.

Kim S: We are heading toward the network-oriented competition, going beyond the resource-oriented power race. Additionally, the weaponization of interdependence is ongoing to utilize this network mechanism. Again, this means the dominant power follows depending on how you use the network and interdependency, regardless of how many resources you have. In particular, as the US and China form their own networks, Korea is standing on a critically important edge of the selection. We might consider the fight between the US and China surrounding the supply chain of semiconductor and battery production creates an unfavorable atmosphere for Korea, but it can provide Korea with a point of strength in terms of establishing a network depending on our further choices.

Hwang: Do you consider the new security feasible as the soft security agenda when it comes to the Northeast Asian security cooperation regime?

Cho: Under the current situation, the pandemic can be the trigger for future connection that links South and North Korea, the US, China, and probably Mongolia to establish a cooperation mechanism for soft power issues. Now the border between new security and old security has collapsed, and therefore we can come up with OSCE in the East Asian version. Of course, whether it is able to happen in parallel with the US-South Korea alliance or not is the problem. However, I assume both the US and Korea can find a point of nexus where both states’ benefits meet and the new security sector would be that critical meeting point of cooperation.

Hwang: As the US-ROK alliance was as advanced as the global alliance, Korea will probably see more space to contribute to international society in the new security sector. What would it be if the US requires Korea to join the QUAD?

Cho: The QUAD has organized working groups on new technology, climate change, and vaccines. These are fields where Korea also has great capability and can cooperate from case to case even though we do not necessarily join the QUAD. Also, cyber cooperation that was mentioned in the US-Korea summit is another field we can consider. Within that context, actively stepping in with a practical approach seems reasonable, regardless of the hegemonic frame between the US and China.

Hwang: The new security issues are more closely connected to daily life than the traditional security issues and the government can get involved in them at any time. Do you have any suggestions that should be reflected on the mechanisms to respond to this?

Kim Y: Recently Korea is going through discussions on the reorganization of the supply chain and it mainly focuses on what position Korea should maintain. As we are all aware, the US in the past did not put its weight on manufacturing, therefore, most of the manufacturing industry is concentrated in China. Korea also has very close relations with China when it comes to export, import, raw materials, and intermediary goods. Under the condition, the US has declared the reorganization of the supply chain as well as the revival of manufacturing market, and Korea is in the position of disputing whether this can be the opportunity or the risk for Korea’s sake accordingly. Currently, Korea is attempting several diversifications in resources through resource cooperation with Australia and others, following China’s weaponization of resources. Korea is seeking to find ways to minimize the risk that comes from China. It must be the next administration’s task to comprehend and consider deeper and respond in making decisions at the middle of the US and China as well as the reorganization of the supply chain.

Hwang: Do you think it is necessary for Korea’s next government to newly establish a department or maybe a control tower in Blue House that manages new security issues including the economy, cyber, infectious diseases, and others?

Kim Y: The prime minister’s office is not quite appropriate in dealing with emerging security issues. In order to accurately counteract the emerging security issues and to lead the related policies from the front, the Office of National Security at the Blue House should cover the emerging security with the president standing at the core. Furthermore, if in need, an additional security office should be established along to handle the new security in dramatic situations.

Kim S: As far as I know, adding one more security office has its limits, since it would cause hypertrophy of the Blue House. However, in a similar sense, we could think of having the 3rd deputy director who is in charge of the emerging security sector in the current Office of National Security, following the 1st (national defense) and the 2nd (foreign affairs), instead of founding an additional security office as an alternative. National Intelligence Service is already running its organization in this way, for instance, its 3rd deputy director is covering a particular area such as space or AI weapons. It might differ indeed depending on the political positions, however, it seems more reasonable to gather all the scattered emerging security issues in one organization and let it manage them.

Cho: The current 1st and 2nd deputy directors in the Office of National Security are way too focused on inter-Korean relations. In this sense, we may have to reduce and rearrange the tendency and found or expand the function of new security related departments.

Hwang: Do you have any additional words to add?

Kim Y: Climate change is not just a simple environmental issue, but is closely related to electric motor vehicles, semiconductors, and batteries. Considering the facts, we must put more emphasis on the connections between the emerging security issues.

Kim S: From the perspective of the emerging security issues, it is necessary to reestablish our view toward the two Koreas’ relations. Whenever inter-Korean relations and emerging security issues come up together, cooperation on quarantine, health, human rights, climate change and others are always mainstream topics. However, new security basically emerges from the conflicting and threatening factors. Considering these, the representative new security issue between the two Koreas is cybersecurity. In addition, several other new security issues are still rising in between two Koreas and will only emerge more. So far, the North Korean nuclear problem is the most critical issue, which tends to crowd out other areas. Nevertheless, we all have to be settled on how to respond in case we face new security problems that go beyond the nuclear problem, and therefore a new perspective in reading inter-Korean relations must be established.

Cho: I would say the logic of ideology should not be applied to new security issues. Personally, I anticipate the next president to be the one who makes a clear position regarding the emerging security, as the leader of the country.


Standing at the current position, where the uncertainty of the international order and instability of the Korean Peninsula is expanding, setting the further direction and counteractions in Korea’s diplomacy is more urgent than any other time. An in-depth discussion on Korean diplomacy’s vision, dignity, direction and positioning amid the heated US-China competition, as well as the arrangement and rearrangement of the overall organizational framework is required in order to maximize Korea’s diplomatic competitiveness. It follows that the discussion on what kind of function should be added, where, and from which sector, could be referential advice for the new government’s implementation of foreign policy from May.
What concerns me the most is the need for an operating system that can comprehensively deal with both traditional and newly emerging security issues. Japan has recently established a new position of economic security minister, which is specified into only the economic security issues. For Korea to blend traditional and new security issues effectively, it also has to develop either a department or a mechanism that it can implement at the national leadership level. Sufficient responses to coping with the new economy and new security are essential for national prosperity and the welfare of the people.

Hwang Jae-ho is a professor of the Division of International Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. He is also the director of the Institute for Global Strategy and Cooperation and now a member of the Presidential Committee on Policy and Planning. This discussion was assisted by researcher Ko Sung-hwah and Shin Eui-chan.

By Choi He-suk (
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