Liberal democratic values
The document also stresses on ROK’s democratic political system and structure, focusing on human rights that it presents as a cross-sectoral factor critical to all aspects of sustainable development. The narrative of South Korea’s ascendency from poor country to one of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) donors is underpinned by its recent history of political and economic transformation driven by solidarity and cooperation at the regional and international levels and its adherence to liberal-democratic values domestically.
Taking the same tone, the Indo-Pacific strategy goes on to condemn Russia’s recent aggression against Ukraine, which has the potential to impact negatively the security and economic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. Like many other countries in the region, the ROK is committed to humanitarian assistance for Ukraine and to its reconstruction. This substantiates South Korea’s acclaim as a model democratic country not just in the region but also the world. It is interesting to note that President Yoon served as a co-host (along with the leaders of Costa Rica, the Netherlands and Zambia) of Biden's second Summit for Democracy in Washington at the end of March.
The geopolitics of bilateral, trilateral and minilateral cooperation
As a geopolitical construct, the Indo-Pacific has gained prominence in current international affairs, owing to the efforts by countries including the US, Japan, Australia and India. The active efforts of these countries to promote the Indo-Pacific are aimed at striking a balance in the great power game in the international realm and between each nation’s own national and global interests.
Th ROK’s strategy does not fail to mention and acknowledge the importance of its bilateral, trilateral and multilateral engagements with the countries in the region. It expresses its appreciation that ROK-US alliance has been serving as a crucial foundation for peace and prosperity in the Korean Peninsula for the past 70 years. Also, the trilateral partnership among the US, Japan and the ROK is cited as a valuable platform for addressing a multitude of pressing issues including the nuclear and missile threats posed by North Korea, as well as disruptions in global supply chains. The document refers to the ample opportunities to foster trilateral cooperation – the ROK with the US and Japan, with the US and Australia, or with China and Japan – to address various regional challenges such as supply chains, critical minerals, emerging technologies, cybersecurity and climate change.
The strategy also cites the need to rejuvenate the Trilateral Summit among China, Japan and ROK and set up a secretariat for the grouping. China is a crucial factor in the strategy. South Korea aims to balance its geographic, military and economic vulnerabilities to China with its growing dependence on US-led alliance systems for its security. The US has discerned the geostrategic importance of middle powers in Asia (especially East, Southeast and South Asia) and has worked to accommodate their interests. In 2021, the Biden administration announced an Interim National Security Strategic Guidance in which it is mentioned that Washington will support China’s neighbors and commercial partners against Chinese coercion and aggression.
In the same vein, South Korea has made overtures to Japan, after a period of tense relations. The two countries have had significant differences and major rows over several issues in the past. But early this year, Yoon became the first Korean president in 12 years to visit its neighbor. The president and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio talked about reviving shuttle diplomacy. Kishida is likely to pay a return visit to the ROK soon. Seoul and Tokyo are working to revamp their bilateral relationship. Any improvement will contribute to the peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.