Korea 'Caught in Tug-of-War Between U.S., China'

      November 28, 2014 12:22

      U.S. officials are worried that Korea and China are getting too close, but the high-wire diplomacy required of Seoul also offers opportunities, the Wall Street Journal said Wednesday.

      An article on the front page headlined "South Korea Looks to Propser in China While Staying Close to U.S.," it says Seoul is now "into a diplomatic balancing act" between the U.S. and China.

      The daily cited diplomatic conflict over the U.S. missile defense program as a prominent example. "The U.S. is portraying the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery as a deterrent against North Korea, a nuclear-armed rogue state. South Korea, though, hasn't publicly supported the deployment, aware that Beijing, Pyongyang's patron, opposes it."

      A free trade agreement Seoul and Beijing signed recently is "a cornerstone of the new friendship." But South Korea "isn't formally part of the talks the U.S. is pushing" for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, "in part because they exclude China."

      "Sometimes it's very difficult for the Korean government to choose a policy," the daily quoted Deputy Finance Minister Jeong Eun-bo as saying.

      The improvement in bilateral relations is reflected in South Korea's increasing investment in China, export volumes and number of students studying there.

      "South Korean businesses poured $3.2 billion into China-based factories through end-September, up a third on the previous year... Last year, China accounted for a quarter of South Korea's $560 billion in total exports," the daily wrote. "Today, there are almost as many South Korean students enrolled at colleges in China as in the U.S."

      In contrast, "the U.S. share stood at 11 percent, down from around 40 percent in the 1980s," it added.

      "The Korean slant toward China is viewed by some as reducing the influence of America here," the daily quoted Jeffrey Jones, an American lawyer at Kim & Chang, a Seoul-based law firm, as saying.

      But South Korea is also irritating China in the security sector. "China is our single most important economic partner. But we can’t weaken U.S. security ties," it quoted an official as saying.

      When China announced an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea, South Korea stood up to it by expanding its own air defense zone. And South Korea agreed to sell the Philippines, which is in a territorial dispute with China, FA-50 fighter jets.

      But South Korea could turn this tug-of-war between the bigger powers to its own advantage, the daily added.

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