A South Korean military expert has said it remains to be seen whether South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s stance toward the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will change after his visit to the United States. Moon concluded his four-day visit to the United States on May 22. The two countries signed a joint statement that for the first time mentioned the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea issues, surpassing the Korean public’s expectations of a government that has, to date, been in lockstep with the CCP’s influence efforts.
On May 21, U.S. President Joe Biden met with Moon at the White House and published a joint statement on issues of mutual concern, including the Korean Peninsula, peace in the Indo-Pacific, and U.S.-South Korea relations.
The statement said the two countries oppose any action that threatens, disrupts, or undermines the rules-based international order and are committed to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region. It stressed the importance of preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, and the importance of the “QUAD” (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) between the United States, Japan, India, and Australia to contain the CCP.
The statement also ended the South Korea Ballistic Missile Range Guidelines signed in 1979, lifting the 800 kilometer (497 mile) limit on the range of South Korean missiles. That would put Beijing, which is 950 kilometers (590 miles) from South Korea, within range of its missiles. South Korean media said that this move paves the way for the country to improve its own strength and control the CCP.
South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo reported that Moon returned to South Korea on the evening of May 23. On his way from Washington to Atlanta, Moon posted a message on social media saying that he had had “the best visit and the best meeting ever,” which had “achieved more than expected results.”
“Moon’s remarks mean that he has agreed to readjust the alliance between South Korea and the United States over the past four years. The South Korean government, which has been adhering to a ‘vague strategy,’ has decided to refocus on the U.S. in the face of the U.S.-China conflict,” the report quoted a diplomat saying.
Declining Approval Ratings Force Moon to Change
Kim Tae Woo, a professor of military science at Konyang University in South Korea, told The Epoch Times that Moon’s declining domestic approval rating was one of the main reasons for his recent pro-American statements.
According to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper, a poll released on April 30 showed that Moon’s approval rating had dropped below 30 percent for the first time to 29 percent—the lowest since he took office.
Many South Koreans have long been dissatisfied with Moon’s pro-CCP policies. After the outbreak of the CCP virus last year, 1.45 million Koreans signed an impeachment petition calling for Moon’s ouster. “President Moon Jae-in’s policy toward the novel coronavirus shows that he is more like the president of China than the president of the Republic of Korea,” the impeachment document said.
According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, the percentage of South Koreans who now have a negative view of China has risen from 37 percent in 2015 to 75 percent in 2020, with 80 percent of young people having a negative view.
Moon Made No Breakthroughs With Pro-CCP Stance
The South Korean government has been communicating with the CCP through diplomatic channels about the Korea-U.S. summit, Korea’s Yonhap News Agency revealed, citing sources at the Blue House. Senior officials from the Blue House said that although mention of the Taiwan Strait appeared for the first time in the Korea-U.S. joint statement, it was only an in principle statement of a basic position.
Citing public opinion, Yonhap News Agency reported that, although Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian and Chinese Ambassador to South Korea Xing Haiming expressed dissatisfaction with the South Korea-U.S. statement, it was generally believed that the tone and wording of the statement were far from as harsh as the one that came out of the U.S.-Japan summit.
According to Kim, “The U.S.-Japan statement issued in April drew strong protests from the CCP and differed significantly from the U.S.-South Korea statement. The former focused on the Chinese and North Korean nuclear issues, and directed their cooperation in a specific way, while the U.S.-South Korea statement used a lot of diplomatic rhetoric to reach consensus on the Chinese and North Korean nuclear issues.
About the CCP’s response to the joint statement, Kim said, “At this stage, the CCP is just using diplomatic rhetoric when criticizing the U.S.-South Korea statement. It may believe that the Moon administration will not turn its back on it.
“If the South Korean government is serious about implementing this statement in the future, then the CCP will step up and take action. But of course, we cannot be pushed around by it,” he added.
Another concern of the public is whether there will be a change in Moon’s “Three Noes” promise to the CCP.
In October 2017, to assuage the CCP’s dissatisfaction with South Korea’s THAAD anti-missile system, Moon made a “Three Noes” promise to Beijing, including not making additional deployments of THAAD, not joining the U.S.-led regional missile defense system, and not accepting a trilateral military alliance between the United States, South Korea, and Japan.
Judging by the CCP’s reaction, Moon’s “Three Noes” promise to China has not been affected. While the joint statement talks about trilateral cooperation between the U.S. and Japan, it doesn’t make any commitments.
Implementation of the Declaration Remains to Be Seen
Kim said that judging only from the content in the joint statement, the declaration should still be considered productive. But whether it was sincere is hard to say and remains to be seen.
“I was very unhappy that Moon has been sitting on the fence between the United States and China in order to seek close ties with North Korea and the CCP,” Kim said. “After reading the joint statement, I changed my view upon seeing that the alliance still exists. But based on what the Moon administration has done over the past four years, it remains to be seen how trustworthy South Korea-U.S. statements can be.”
When it comes to Moon’s China policy, Kim said, “Taiwan is a very sensitive topic for Beijing. The U.S.-Japan statement drew strong protests from Beijing because of this issue. Now, the U.S.-South Korea statement has included some of the CCP’s most sensitive issues, such as Taiwan and the South China Sea. Although there is no direct mention of the CCP, the statement refers to it. It’s surprising that Moon, who has stuck to appeasement all the time, would adopt this.”
On the future of the South Korea-U.S. alliance, Kim said that the issue “will be decided by the South Korean election next year. If South Koreans choose socialism and are willing to accept pro-Communist and pro-North Korean forces, the United States will reconsider the alliance, so South Koreans ought to make a correct judgment [next year].”
Epoch Times reporters Yeonjae Lee and Lisa Bian contributed to this report.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.