South Korea Has a Plan to Influence Biden on North Korea: Join the Quad?
March 9, 2021 Topic: South Korea Quad Region: Asia Blog Brand: Korea Watch Tags: South KoreaNorth KoreaAmericaChinaThe Quad

South Korea Has a Plan to Influence Biden on North Korea: Join the Quad?

Seoul has been wary of antagonizing Beijing, but it wants to have a peace regime with Pyongyang.

It appears that South Korea now may be considering joining the Quad Plus, a regional network of countries that it previously shunned, in order to possibly influence U.S. policy on North Korea.

Hwang Ji-hwan, a member of the South Korean president’s commission on policy planning, has stated that the Moon Jae-in administration is not a proponent of a sudden or complete removal of sanctions on isolated North Korea but should do so in a gradual manner via diplomacy and negotiations that are geared toward denuclearization on the peninsula.

“Seoul is thus trying to coordinate and influence the Biden administration’s North Korea policy review process. South Korea is aware that the new administration has a host of domestic and foreign policy priorities more important to Washington than North Korea,” Hwang, an international relations professor from the University of Seoul, and Ramon Pacheco Pardo, Korea chair at Vrije Universiteit Brussel and associate professor in international relations at King’s College in London, wrote in a recent op-ed.

“The South Korean president believes it is his duty to lay the groundwork for a sustainable inter-Korean reconciliation process.”

The authors noted that the Seoul government may want the new Joe Biden administration to start ramping up engagement with North Korea.

“So it wants to make sure that the policy review process does not drag on for months on end. Or worse, that it ends up with a decision to pursue strategic patience 2.0,” they wrote, referring to the Obama administration’s wait-and-see policy on North Korea.

“But the Biden administration might be tempted to revive President Obama’s policy anyway, given its many other foreign policy concerns. This would be a disaster for Seoul. … This does not necessarily mean moving away from containment or the sudden withdrawal of sanctions, which neither Washington nor Seoul advocate. But it does mean engaging in a sustainable diplomatic process involving working-level talks and a step-by-step approach. For the South Korean government, the Biden administration brings hope that Washington will try to walk down this path,” the authors added.

South Korea has been reluctant to join the Quad Plus, which currently boasts the four countries of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, because the group was often portrayed by former President Donald Trump \ as having an anti-China stance.

“South Korea had no incentive to join an anti-China quad. But the Biden administration wants to shift the Quad toward a group of like-minded countries,” they wrote.

“This is more to the liking of the Moon government, which could see membership of a Quad Plus as a means to further strengthen links with the U.S. and gain support for some of its foreign policy goals.”

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

Image: Reuters.