May 22, 2020 11:24
The U.S. has sounded out Korea about joining a new economic bloc designed to isolate China and curb its growing economic might.
The Economic Prosperity Network is being mooted as a way of diversifying global supply chains away from China amid U.S. President Donald Trump's trade war with the world's most populous country.
Washington asked Seoul to join last November, but officials here were keen to stress that they only talked about the initiative in the broadest terms. "We've heard of the EPN initiative. But it's still in its initial idea-gathering stage and we haven't received any specific offer," a Foreign Ministry spokesman here said.
But even the prospect of further talks puts Korea in a bind after heavy pressure last year to join the U.S.'s war against China's Huawei while ties with Beijing were only just recovering from an unofficial boycott.
The EPN is being promoted by a man named Keith Krach, who is an undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment. Krach told reporters in a special telephone briefing on Wednesday, "I've had two great dialogues with -- over in Seoul, and one of those was the Senior Economic Dialogue, which is the highest-ranking U.S.-to-Korea dialogue other than the military dialogue, and we talked about the Economic Prosperity Network initiative to unite countries like the United States and [Korea]."
He added one key tenet of U.S.' security strategy "is to expand and diversify supply chains that protect people in the free world." He claimed the EPN "is a number of countries -- to unite countries, companies and civil society around the world based on the foundation of trust, and they will operate under the same set of values in critical industries."
"Korea is a great ally for the United States. Our nations have deep, comprehensive ties. Our people share common values which make for a trusted partnership," he added.
The ministry spokesman here said the government is "watching" efforts to form the EPN "closely" but it is too early to talk about whether Korea will join. Seoul is understandably terrified of being pushed to join because it has to walk a tightrope between the U.S. and China, its major markets.
Trump is becoming increasingly erratic and obsessive as his chances of re-election fade, and he seems determined to blame China for anything from the coronavirus epidemic to tanking U.S. employment figures.
"The Trump administration is stepping up offensives against China as a strategy to divert attention as economic difficulties at home deepen due to the epidemic," said Kim Sung-han at Korea University. "But Seoul shouldn't regard Washington's request for cooperation as just a passing fancy."
The U.S.-China conflict deepened on Wednesday, when the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill that could lead to the removal of "rogue" Chinese companies from the New York Stock Exchange.
On Thursday, China's People's Liberation Army Daily wrote that Washington is ramping up political propaganda by exploiting the coronavirus crisis.
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