South Korean Unification Minister Kwon Young-se recently renounced the idea that the country’s diplomacy “should walk the line between the U.S. and China,” suggested by some public opinion.
He used an analogy from Aesop’s Fable to describe the outcome of that mentality.
In an interview with Korean broadcaster KBS on May 19, Kwon said if South Korea continues to play strategic ambiguity between Washington and Beijing, it will end up like “the Bat in Aesop Fable, abandoned by either side, which won’t end well.”
The Ministry of Unification is an executive department responsible for inter-Korean affairs and promoting peace and unification of the two Koreas. President Yoon Suk-yeol appointed Kwon to the post in April last year.
Kwon, a veteran lawmaker and former ambassador to China, is widely known as Yoon’s close and trusted confidant. Kwon was the head of Yoon’s presidential campaign and vice-chairman of the presidential transition committee after Yoon had won the election in March 2022.
Yoon’s recent state visit to the United States resulted in the signing of the Washington Declaration.
The U.S.-South Korea agreement, signed by Biden and Yoon on April 26, outlines a set of U.S. extended deterrence measures, which will involve deploying U.S. strategic assets—nuclear forces—on the Korean Peninsula.
In the declaration, South Korea expressed “full confidence” in U.S. extended deterrence commitments, and Washington pledged to make “every effort” to consult with South Korea on “any possible nuclear weapons employment” in the region.
For several days following the U.S.-Korea summit, Chinese state media collectively denounced the declaration.
The state-run Global Times on April 29 suggested that “if Seoul ignores warnings from China, Russia, and North Korea and completely executes [a] U.S. order for ‘extended deterrence’ in the region, South Korea will likely face retaliation from China, Russia, and North Korea.”
When asked by KBS’s moderator whether the Yoon administration’s strategy to strengthen the South Korea-U.S. alliance would bring North Korea closer to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Kwon explained that being CCP-friendly is not the solution to this complex issue by citing the example of West Germany.
“West Germany faced the same dilemma [in the face of the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union] during the division of East and West Germany,” Kwon said.
“It is the mission of West Germany to use the freedom [and security] it gained from having strengthened relations with [the United States and its allies] to establish good relations with the former Soviet Union. [But not the other way around].”
He said South Korea “will be constrained in every way” if it wants to solve the North Korean problem through Beijing.
“What we should consider is that an epochal strengthening of the Korea-U.S. alliance will give Korea much more [diplomatic] leeway in its future dialogue with China, and from this point of view, [strengthening the Korea-U.S. alliance] can be a weapon for us,” he added.
On the same day, Kwon immediately rejected the suggestion that it might be more beneficial for Korea to walk the line between the United States and China.
He again cited the example of West Germany, saying, “It has been noted in the past if West Germany went the wrong way by walking the wire between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, it will be abandoned both in the U.S. and the Soviet Union.”
Kwon also used an analogy from “The Birds, the Beasts, and the Bat,” a classic story from Aesop’s Fables.
The story is about the Birds and the Beasts who declared war on each other. However, the Bat had always clung to the stronger side. When the bird and the beast declared peace, the two warring parties understood the Bat’s deceitful behavior. Therefore, both sides found him guilty of treachery and drove him out of the daylight. From then on, the Bat hides in dark places and always flies alone at night.
The story served as a moral lesson for those deceitful and seeking benefits from both sides during a conflict.
Kwon went on to emphasize that amid an unsettled U.S.-China rivalry, it is necessary for U.S.-South Korea trust to be restored before improving relations with China.
From The Epoch Times