South Korea navigates the Indo-Pacific

In: 9 Dashline

By Ramon Pacheco Pardo, 31 May 2021

“We agree we will work to align the ROK’s New Southern Policy and the United States’ vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific and that our countries will cooperate to create a safe, prosperous, and dynamic region”. So reads one of the most consequential sentences in the joint statement issued by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Joe Biden following their recent summit. A sentence that encapsulates Seoul’s policy towards the Indo-Pacific. A policy that has undergone a dramatic change in recent years. When former US President Donald Trump visited South Korea in late 2017, he tried to convince Moon to join his then-recently launched Indo-Pacific vision. The South Korean president did not bite. Seoul’s assessment was fairly straightforward; the mercurial US leader could change his position at any point, and his Indo-Pacific vision may not have any meat to it. And certainly, neither Washington’s Indo-Pacific policy nor the Quad had any real material impact during Trump’s years in office.