As China’s military and economic power rises to match that of the USA, Washington is increasingly leaning on its allies in terms of both economics and security. But in the latter area, Canberra and Seoul share little ground these days.
As China and the USA square off across the region, what path can those middle powers that rely on Beijing for trade and Washington for security take?
Canberra and Seoul have much in common. They both fought on the same side against China in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. They are complementary economies, with Australia a raw materials producer and South Korea a finished goods exporter.
Perhaps most critically, the two liberal democracies must juggle their security partnerships with Washington and their heavy trade reliance upon Beijing.
They are doing so at a time when there is a perilous level of distrust between the USA and China in the Indo-Pacific battlefield region.
As China’s military and economic power rises to match that of the USA, Washington is increasingly leaning on its allies in terms of both economics and security. But in the latter area, Canberra and Seoul share little ground.
Anglosphere Australia has taken a confrontational approach, which has seen it upgrade regional military alliances with the USA while pushing back hard against Chinese economic retaliation.
Conversely, China’s neighbor South Korea has sought to keep its head below the parapets. Seoul has declined to join China-facing alliances, even though Chinese economic blows hammered South Korean investments and exports in 2017 after the deployment of a US THAAD anti-missile battery on its soil.
Overall, this region-wide competition is eroding the ability of middle powers to act independently. If they are to retain relevance outside the spheres of the superpowers, they need to find common ground, create pragmatic linkages and speak with united voices.
South Korea and Australia’s trajectories to deal with China are so divergent, neither will see the other as taking the correct approach.
South Korea is balancing interests, Australia has aligned itself with the US. Until South Koreans and Australians understand each other’s points of views and their trajectories, there is not going to be a lot of cooperation that can proceed.
Australia has always had a forward defense policy, trying to push our defensive lines as far from their own borders as possible.
Canberra dispatched combat troops to join US occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and under the recent AUKUS agreement, will be positioned to deploy nuclear submarines on long, wide-ranging patrols in the flashpoint South China Sea?
While Seoul has taken part in so-called peacekeeping missions, humanitarian operations and piracy patrols in such war theaters as Iraq, South Sudan and the Red Sea, it has declined to join the kinetic expeditions its alliance partner the USA so frequently engages in.
In the meantime, the Morrison administration’s confrontation with Xi’s Beijing is stressing Australia’s national polity.
In Western Australia, 60% of trade is with China. A lot of politicians in Western Australia think the government’s approach toward China is too harsh, and we should be more accommodating.
Western Australia has a big voice. Its resource-rich coal-, gold and iron ore state economy is critical to the wider Australian national economy.
A lot of countries that are overly reliant and dependent on China are needing to rethink their foreign policy and defense and economic strategies.
Evolving great power dynamics are also putting immense pressure on middle powers in general, and Australia and South Korea in particular. In policy circles in South Korea, Australia is totally irrelevant.
South Korea’s diplomatic brain trust has traditionally focused on inter-Korean relations, as well as surrounding major rather than middle powers, like China, Japan, Russia and the USA.
We Koreans frame the issue as we are being squeezed between two whales and we are a shall shrimp caught in the crossfire.
These two states are ideal diplomatic partners, but maybe not strategic partners. Working together on global governance and regional issues – that is where the real key for the two independent states lie.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point WW III News 2021.