The Case for South Korean Membership in the G7
As the Indo-Pacific has become more important than ever before, it is high time that the G7 adapted itself to this changing reality.
Given the threat to free-market democracies posed by authoritarian and revisionist China and Russia, the G7 (Group of Seven), a club of wealthy industrialized democracies, needs to be expanded and strengthened. South Korea is the logical new member of this forum. As a G8 member, South Korea would make a valuable contribution to strengthening free-market democracy in the Indo-Pacific and around the world.
Despite the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific in the global economy and the burgeoning challenge from China to the rules-based international order, the G7 at present has only one member located in Asia, namely Japan. This imbalance needs to be corrected. The Indo-Pacific economies already contribute the largest share to the global economy, more than North America or the European Union, and they constitute the fastest-growing region of the global economy. It is high time that the G7 welcomed another member from the Indo-Pacific to make itself more relevant to this changing reality.
South Korea is the logical new G8 member from the Indo-Pacific because, next to Japan, it is the largest and wealthiest free-market democracy in Asia. Under the present government of Yoon Suk-yeol, Seoul is pursuing a foreign policy that aligns South Korea more firmly with the democratic West vis-à-vis China. A logical culmination of this present trajectory is for Seoul to join the G7.
South Korea is now one of the largest advanced economies and one of the top military powers in the world. Its GDP is similar to those of Italy and Canada, two current G7 members. Its military is ranked as one of the six most powerful in the world, and Seoul has become a major arms exporter to nations including Poland, while its troops are stationed in nations including the United Arab Emirates. Moreover, South Korea is a technological powerhouse, with leadership in key strategic industries including semiconductors and electric vehicle batteries. If G7 were to effectively address economic and geopolitical challenges around the world, having South Korea as a member would be very helpful.
For Seoul, joining the G7 would help strengthen its national security vis-à-vis the rising challenge from Beijing and would solidify its stature as a leading power of the democratic West. For centuries, Korea was a vassal to China, with Beijing exercising hegemony over its foreign relations. As a G8 member, South Korea would be recognized, along with Japan, as a bulwark of free-market democracy in the Indo-Pacific against Beijing’s ambitions for regional dominance.
The only potential hurdle to South Korean membership in the G7 may be possible opposition from Japan, given historical irritants in relations between Tokyo and Seoul. But Japan would do well to realize that it has more to gain than to lose from South Korean membership in the G7. Japan needs South Korea as an indispensable key ally in the face of growing challenges from China and North Korea. Having Seoul as a G8 member would help improve cooperation between Tokyo and Seoul on a wide range of shared issues and challenges. As a G8 member, Seoul would likely strengthen Tokyo’s efforts to effectively form a coalition of nations committed to the rules-based international order in spite of Beijing’s revisionist expansionism.
From Washington’s point of view, Seoul as a G8 member would offer an important contribution to the U.S.-effort to defend and strengthen the rules-based international order, including its efforts to promote U.S.-Japan-South Korea trilateral cooperation against China and North Korea. Seoul’s admission would also enable better coordination among the world’s leading economic and technological powers to address burgeoning challenges posed by China’s technological and economic prowess.
As the Indo-Pacific has become more important than ever before, it is high time that the G7 adapted itself to this changing reality. Such adaptation begins by evolving the G7 from a club of mostly European and North American powers to a body more representative of the world’s economies and populations. Welcoming South Korea as a G8 member would be an effective and welcome first step, and should be supported by all current G7 members.
Jongsoo Lee is Senior Managing Director at Brock Securities and Center Associate at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. He is also Adjunct Fellow at the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum and Contributing Editor at The Diplomat. He can be followed on Twitter at @jameslee004.