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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Korea’s ties to U.S., China not a zero-sum game: Kagan

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Edgard Kagan, senior director for East Asia and Oceania at the U.S. National Security Council, speaks at a forum hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C. on Tuesday. [YONHAP]
Edgard Kagan, senior director for East Asia and Oceania at the U.S. National Security Council, speaks at a forum hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C. on Tuesday. [YONHAP]

Korea’s relations with China and the United States do not have to be a zero-sum game, said Edgard Kagan, a senior director of the U.S. National Security Council in a forum in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.

“From the U.S. perspective, we do not believe that it is incompatible to have a strong U.S.-ROK alliance that covers more issues… in areas like technology, economic cooperation… with the ROK having a productive relationship with the PRC,” said Kagan, speaking at a forum hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center, referring to South Korea and China by the acronyms for their full names.

“We do not see this as a zero-sum game,” said Kagan. “And we do not want to be in the position to telling the ROK or urging the ROK to do things which are antithetical to its interests, because we believe that our real strengths… are our common interests and our shared vision for the region, which I would argue is much greater than it was 20 years ago.”

The conference, “Between the Eagle and the Dragon: Challenges and Opportunities for South Korea in the US-China Competition,” was joined by other Korean watchers and experts including Sue Mi Terry, director of the Asia program at the center, and Meg Lundsager, former U.S. executive director and alternate executive director of the International Monetary Fund.

The conference took place two weeks after a summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali, Indonesia, on the sidelines of a G20 summit. The two were meeting face-to-face for the first time as presidents. They had last met in 2017 during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

In the summit with Xi, Biden stressed that their countries’ competition should not veer into conflict and that they should maintain open and clear communication with each other, and cooperate on issues such as climate change and global economic instabilities.

Experts at the forum on Tuesday discussed past expectations by Washington of China.

“There was a sense that in doing this, China would see how the rest of the world operated, they’d be part of these rules… that China would be part of this process and it would generate change in China,” said Lundsager, recalling China’s joining of the World Trade Organization in 2001. “And it hasn’t to the extent that it was expected back then… [But] to actually break out into a trade war would be very difficult for both countries.”

Kagan stressed that focusing on the U.S.-China rivalry is not going to get the region very far on any of its common goals.

“We have a strong and compelling interest in increasing our cooperation to support a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific,” he said. “But this needs to be seen not in the context of U.S.-China competition but in the context of increasingly common interests between the U.S. and the ROK… that is increasingly aligned with what others in the region are seeing and thinking.”

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a thorny issue between Washington and Seoul since it was passed in August, was also addressed at the forum.

“I think the reality continues to be that the ROK is going to be one of the major beneficiaries of the Inflation Reduction Act, because of the strength of ROK companies in key technologies linked to electric vehicles, as well as other efforts to decarbonize energy production,” said Kagan.

The IRA stipulates that buyers of electronic vehicles are eligible for a $7,500 tax credit only if vehicles are assembled in the United States. Hyundai Motor is building an EV assembly plant in the United States that will be completed in 2025.

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]