U.S. War on Huawei Puts Korea in a Bind

  • By Kim Choong-ryung

    May 23, 2019 11:42

    Korea is under increasing U.S. pressure to take sides in Washington's war against China's Huawei. The government has so far expressed reluctance to intervene in the affairs of private Korean businesses that want to use Huawei equipment, but insiders warn that Seoul will find it difficult to sit on the fence much longer as U.S. President Donald Trump tries to bully captive allies into submission.

    Japan and Australia have already joined the boycott. But Korea would stand to face massive reprisals from China if it does. China now accounts for a bigger proportion of Korea's exports than the U.S., EU and Japan combined, buying around US$142.1 billion worth of products from Korea in 2017, or 24.8 percent of the country's total exports.

    One diplomatic source said, "During a dispute over a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery, China picked on the weak link, which was Korea" but left Japan alone even though it is home to more of the U.S. anti-missile batteries. "This time, China's retaliation could be even worse."

    Korea has long understood itself as being diplomatically a shrimp among whales, sitting as it did on the eastern frontline of the Cold War.

    Pressure is only expected to grow. U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit Korea late next month, while President Moon Jae-in is seeking to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping around that time as well. Seoul needs to cooperate closely with Washington to jump-start stalled dialogue with Pyongyang, while Beijing's role is also crucial in the process.

    "The anti-Huawei campaign could make things difficult for Korea, which needs to bridge differences with the U.S. over denuclearization, while maintaining close ties with China," said Nam Joo-hong at Kyonggi University.

    Shin Beom-chul, a senior researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, added, "The government should have taken a more vigorous position during the THAAD boycott by treating it as a security matter, but Korea showed signs of wavering. This time it needs a clear set of positions for the Huawei dispute and look for ways to dodge pressure from both the U.S. and China."

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