Country Report: South Korea (May 2021)

In the wake of the inauguration of the Biden administration, a flurry of diplomatic activities in the Indo-Pacific ensued in March and April, which brought into sharp focus South Korea’s growing dilemma as a middle power wedged between its closest security ally, the US, and largest trading partner, China. With liberal internationalist Joe Biden and authoritarian Xi Jinping at the helm, the two superpowers seemed unambiguously headed toward multifaceted competition and confrontation, as illustrated by their March, face-to-face high-level talks in Alaska. South Korea’s balancing act will likely be constrained to an unprecedented extent. How will it chart its course, especially over joining the US-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), an informal grouping as yet, but a potentially potent tool to contain and counter a rising China? The prospects of denuclearizing North Korea and of forging trilateral cooperation with the US and Japan will also have to be measured against the backdrop of the US-China rivalry.

ROK-US Relations

Scaling-down of annual Korea-US Joint Military Exercises
In March, ideological divergence between South Korean progressives and conservatives appeared most pronounced on the subject of holding annual South Korea-US military exercises. After Kim Jong-un, at the 8th Party Congress, demanded South Korea halt its annual military exercises with the US, the subject touched off a heated controversy. In the two months leading up to the exercises in the second week of March, progressive politicians and civil society groups voiced strong opposition. On February 25, Minister of Unification Lee In-Young, the former majority whip of the ruling Democratic Party, in a joint statement with thirty-five of its representatives, called for postponing the exercises, claiming that “given deepened mutual distrust between two Koreas without any remaining lines of inter-Korean communication, skirmishes at a border could provoke the North’s aggressive response and may even lead to serious diplomatic and security standoff.”1 The view was echoed by Jeong Se-Hyun, the minister of unification under Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, who claimed that “we had better not hold the exercises this year, for Kim Jong-un said doing away with the exercises would be a precondition to improving the inter-Korean relations.”2 The June 15, 2000 Joint Declaration Committee, a civil society group that supports rapprochement, held a protest rally in opposition to the exercises and released a statement that said, “the only way to rekindle the flame of peace is not just to postpone the exercises, but to make a complete halt to them.”3

South Korean conservative lawmakers and analysts heavily criticized these demands. On March 3, in responding to the ruling party lawmakers’ statement, seventy-three representatives of the People Power Party, issued their own statement, highlighting the need of holding the exercises and charging that the ruling party’s demand is “suicidal and self-destructive.”4 Some military experts also questioned the reasoning that rapprochement with the North can only be advanced at the expense of the exercises. For instance, Lee Ho-Ryung claimed that the “history of inter-Korean relations shows that North Korean military provocations, rather than the South Korea-US joint military exercises, have been a decisive factor in derailing the inter-Korean dialogues,” adding that “a thaw in the strained inter-Korea relations would rather be dependent on North Korean leadership’s breaking the mold and making a wise decision.”5

Following the announcement by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff that Seoul and Washington would be commencing their joint military exercises, for nine days, starting from March 8, albeit in a scaled-down manner, for the stated reasons of the spread of COVID-19 and the political situation, progressives expressed support for the decision. Among the newspapers, Kyunghyang Shinmun editorialized that the decision as “inevitable and justifiable for maintaining stability of the Korean Peninsula,” and urged the government to continue on a path towards “denuclearization of Korea and normalization of US-DPRK relations.”6

Conservative commentators and media, however, denounced the decision, levelling criticisms specifically at the government’s decision to replace field training exercises (FTX) with command post exercises (CPX). JoongAng Ilbo drew an analogy with “football players who practice skills through computer simulations.”7 Munhwa Ilbo said that even “the computer games” have become smaller-scale compared to the past.8 Segye Ilbo cited North Korea’s growing nuclear weapons inventory and Kim Jong-un’s doubling-down on the nuclear program in his speech at the 8th Party Congress to question the wisdom of downsizing the scope of the exercises.9 Both Munhwa and Segye pointed out that by scaling down the exercises, the current government shot itself in the foot as a full operational capability test of the Korean troops, a prerequisite for regaining wartime Operational Control (OPCON), would not be held.

Korea-US Special Measures Agreement (SMA)
On March 9, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that South Korea and the US agreed on a six-year 11th Special Measures Agreement (SMA), an accord that covers South Korea’s contribution to the cost of hosting US troops in the country. South Korea’s contribution for 2020 would remain at the current level and, from 2021 to 2025, would be increased in line with its annual defense budget rise. The ministry said the agreement “was aligned with the South Korea government’s principle of reasonable and fair burden-sharing, strengthened job security of Korean national employees paid through the SMA by revising an existing mechanism, and strengthened the ROK-US alliance by securing stability through a six-year deal.”10

The agreement was criticized by leftist groups and media. On March 16, the June 15, 2000 Joint Declaration Committee and the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation characterized it as “unacceptably expensive, humiliating, and harming national sovereignty in budgeting,” and demanded the government renegotiate it.11 Left-leaning newspapers joined the criticism. Kyunghang described the deal as “Not even remotely fair and balanced,” citing the cost estimate for 2025 of 1.5 trillion won, which it said would be roughly on the same level as President Trump’s earlier demand of a 50% increase.12 Hankyoreh redoubled the criticism, describing the cost estimate as “burdensome” and the annual level of increase as “steep.”13

Conservative newspapers were, however, largely positive about the completion of the deal. JoongAng said, “it was good to hear that the negotiations over the agreement that protracted and posed difficulties in maintaining combined defense posture came to an end,” a feat which it credited to the Biden administration “that looks at allies in terms of trust.” Adding that the agreement was not without problems, it recommended that both parties consider using specific cost areas, rather than the overall stationing costs as a benchmark for making future cost-sharing decisions.14 Dong-A Ilbo said, the deal signified that “the allies were off to a good start,” as the Biden administration “contrasted starkly with that of President Trump who threatened the withdrawal of U.S. troops, if he didn’t get his way.”15

Views on the agreement diverged. Kim Dong Yeop said it is hard to call the agreement as success, for the South Korean government agreed not only to increase the funding level for 2021 by 13.9%, the third largest increase in the history of the SMAs, but also to increase the rate of increase applied to every following year until 2025, from the rise in CPI with a 4% annual cap to annual defense budget growth of 5 to 7%.16 Kim noted that this defeats the purpose of South Korea’s decision to increase its defense budget to reduce dependence on US troops in the context of the OPCON transfer.17 Lee Dae-Woo disagreed that the level of contribution and rate of increase would be burdensome, for South Korea had experience of increasing its contribution by the rise in its annual defense budget growth of 8.2% in the 10th SMA in 2019 and the projected total contribution for 2021 would amount to about 2.2% of the defense budget and 0.06% of its GDP, a level he said, “would be sufficiently born by the South Korean economy.” Lee Soo Hoon claimed that South Korea would benefit from the multiyear agreement, which will provide it with a basis for strengthening combined defense posture and preclude it from national division and conflict stemming from drawn-out negotiations.18

The Quad and Quad-Plus
On March 12, in response to the first virtual summit of the Quad, conservative newspapers urged the government to join as a “Quad-Plus” partner. Segye Ilbo said, “amid US worries about Korea’s tilting toward China, there is no time to spare, but to join the grouping as a Quad-Plus partner,” a course of action, which it said, would “strengthen not only the ROK-US alliance, but also security against North Korea.”19 Asia Today likewise said, “South Korea should join the Biden Administration in its efforts to restore alliances and receive its assurances of cooperation in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.”20 JoongAng struck a more cautious tone; conceding that South Korea is in a difficult spot [regarding the question of joining the Quad] given a high volume of trade with China. South Korea would nonetheless have to come out of its hitherto ambiguous stance in support of the US, it advised.21

When the Quad summit joint statement appeared, newspapers across the political spectrum noted its reference to “denuclearization of North Korea” and expressed concern about South Korea being left out of discussions on the issue within the Quad. JoongAng said, it “highly regarded” the inclusion of denuclearizing North Korea, emphasizing the need for South Korea to help reestablish close trilateral cooperation among the US, Japan, and Korea, and to take part in the US strategy against China.22 Munhwa Ilbo also urged South Korea “to join the Quad without hesitation” to discuss the North Korean nuclear issue as well as “other matters crucial to its national security such as protecting sea lines of communication.”23 Hankyoreh also highlighted the statement on North Korea and asked the government to “prudently consider and decide on a future course of action” on how to be involved in the grouping.24

Korea-US 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministerial Meeting
On March 18, the 2+2 meeting between Seoul and Washington was held in Seoul, When the Foreign Ministry announced the schedule on March 10, conservative newspapers called on the government to take the opportunity to strengthen ties with the US while guarding against North Korean and Chinese aggression. Hankook Kyungjae highlighted that America’s purpose was “to shore up allies and send China a warning,” and urged the South Korean government to “end its strategic ambiguity between the US and China and strengthen the alliance with the US.”25 Seoul Kyungjae chimed in, saying “amid the intense jockeying between the US and China, South Korea would no longer be able to stay neutral in the name of ‘strategic ambiguity’ and should stop walking on eggshells with China.”26 Asia Today likewise urged South Korea to “smooth out any differences with the US, strengthen the ROK-US alliance, and together find concrete solutions for peace in Korea,” adding that the two allies should “send North Korea and China a clear message to contribute to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”27 Center-right Kookmin Ilbo took a somewhat different stance, calling on the government to “persuade the Biden administration to be flexible in its North Korea policy for resumption of the US-DPRK dialogue” and “convey its point of view that South Korea has difficulties in joining the Quad, given South Korea’s close economic ties with China.”28

However, the assessments on the outcome of the meeting from the government and its affiliated think-tanks on one side and conservative media on the other diverged. Kim Hyun-Wook, at think tank affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, positively assessed that through the meeting, South Korea and the US reaffirmed the latter’s security guarantees to the former in the form of extended deterrence, shared the same concerns on North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile threats, dealt with issues related to the peninsula through a coordinated strategy, and highlighted the importance of trilateral cooperation with Japan and a close linkage between the US Indo-Pacific strategy and South Korea’s New Southern Policy.29On the contrary, Chosun Ilbo denounced the outcome, which failed to adopt a statement that lists North Korea human right issues and “denuclearization of North Korea,’’ a phrasing missing due to the South Korean government’s demand to replace it with “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”30

US-China Rivalry

US-China Talks in Anchorage, Alaska
On March 19, the US secretary of state and national security advisor held the first high-level bilateral talks with their Chinese counterparts, in Anchorage. After the confrontational opening characterized by an exchange of blunt and angry words, many commentators and newspapers in South Korea expressed concern about the looming rivalry, which some termed as “the New Cold War,” and its negative impact on solving the North Korean issues. For instance, Park Byung Gwang, at a national think-tank, said the Alaska talks showed that “the US and China were locked in a structured hegemonic competition and decoupling” and that “such a trend would complicate South Korea’s efforts to seek their cooperation on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and obtaining peace on the peninsula, but also make it hard for South Korea to maintain its strategic ambiguity between the two powers.”31

As to South Korea’s response to the development, some papers argued for preparing a plan to seek cooperation from both the US and China on the North Korean issue. Diagnosing that their growing conflicts would allow less room to maneuver, Hankook Ilbo urged South Korea to “thoroughly prepare for competitive US-China relations.”32 Kyunghang opined that intensifying US-China conflict will deepen Sino-DPRK relations and make it much more challenging to resolve the nuclear issue, asking South Korea to “decouple the Korean problem from the US-China strategic competition and create a separate zone of cooperation.”33 Center-right Kookmin Ilbo likewise said, amid deteriorating US-China relations, South Korea has to come up with a thorough plan to “overcome the double burden of furthering the alliance with the US to address the North Korean nuclear issue and of obtaining China’s cooperation.”34

On the other hand, conservative newspapers argued that under this circumstance, South Korea should decisively choose the US over China. Segye Ilbo called for prioritizing “the 70-year-long alliance rooted in shared values with the US,” over China and “actively considering joining the Quad.”35 Seoul Kyungjae also wrote, “in the age of New Cold War, tightrope-walking diplomacy between US and China would no longer work,” adding, “South Korea should strengthen the alliance with the US that values democracy and human rights.”36 Asia Today took the same view, albeit cautiously, “strategically aligning with the US in its initiative and helping it flexibly approach and resolve the North Korea issue could be a way forward.”37 Hankyoreh disagreed, saying that the US, having made clear that it views allies as a tool to check China, should not treat issues related to the Korean Peninsula as dependent variables to its China policy.38

Trilateral Meeting of Security Officials of South Korea, US, and Japan
The trilateral meeting of top security advisors of South Korea, the US, and Japan was held to consult on US North Korea policy and to discuss issues of common concern including Indo- Pacific security. With regard to North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, the national security advisors agreed on the imperative for full implementation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and the importance of trilateral cooperation towards denuclearization. As Suh Hoon told reporters, the US side introduced the interim outcome of its North Korea policy review and agreed to continue communicating and consulting with South Korea through the remainder of the policy review process. As for the bilateral talks with his US counterpart Jake Sullivan, Suh said, “we underlined the importance of engagement with North Korea in the denuclearization process, coordinated strategy between South Korea and the US, and the virtuous cycle of inter-Korean relations and denuclearization negotiations.”39

Foreign Ministers’ Meeting of South Korea and China
In Xiamen, Minister of Foreign Affairs Chung Eui-yong and State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi exchanged views on a summit and high-level exchanges, substantive cooperation, and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Casting South Korea and China as “eternal neighbors,” Wang Yi said that the two countries should focus on strengthening cooperation in various fields such as 5G, big data, green economy, artificial intelligence, integrated circuits, new energy, and the health industry. Wang Yi said, “China, along with South Korea, will seek a process for a political resolution of the Korean Peninsula issue through dialogue.”40 Chung stated that South Korea and China share the common goal of complete denuclearization of the peninsula and stressed the importance of China’s constructive role for substantive progress in the Korean Peninsula peace process. The two foreign ministers agreed to strengthen cooperation through various dialogue mechanisms and to hold a vice foreign ministerial strategic dialogue and a foreign policy and security dialogue (2+2), which has been halted since the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), within the first half of this year. With regard to economic cooperation, the two sides agreed to adopt the “Korea-China Joint Plan for Economic Cooperation” as early as possible, work for an early entry into force of RCEP, and accelerate the second phase of the Korea-China FTA negotiations.

Kyunghyang noted that these two meetings held across the Pacific showed the reality of South Korea between the two superpowers and pointed out the difficulty of sustaining “strategic ambiguity,”’ which aims to harmoniously advance South Korea-China relations based on a firm South Korea-US alliance, as the US and China begin to ask South Korea to stand on their sides in earnest. Kyunghyang argued that South Korea must pursue “balanced diplomacy” to defend its core interests, revive the Korean Peninsula peace process, and approach individual issues flexibly rather than picking sides.41 Hankyoreh also editorialized about these two meetings and South Korea’s diplomatic efforts and challenges to shape US North Korea policy, calling on the government to keep trying to find a way to resolve the North Korean nuclear issues through US-China relations and to gain a stronger say on the matter.42

Meanwhile, conservative outlets expressed concern over South Korea being the weakest link in the US alliance system. JoongAng Dailyeditorialized about Chung’s visit to Xiamen, pointing out that unlike foreign ministers Kang Kyung-wha and Yun Byung-se who visited Washington first after their appointments, Chung visited China.43 Although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted the Korea-China foreign ministers’ meeting as an opportunity for strategic communication with a major neighboring country, Chosun strongly criticized the administration’s obsession with “magic bullets,” such as President Xi Jinping’s visit to Seoul and resumption of US-North Korea dialogue. In its editorial, Chosun pointed out that while Chung Eui-yong urged Xi to visit Seoul, the Chinese Foreign Ministry made no mention about such a visit in its briefing after the meeting.44

While the lame-duck phenomenon is likely to loom towards the end of this presidency, Seoul continues to pursue “strategic ambiguity,” seeking policy options to resume conversation with North Korea. On April 6, the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security published a report titled “How to Prepare for the Resumption of US-North Korea Nuclear Negotiations” and analyzed various issues that are likely to emerge when the Biden administration prepares for nuclear negotiations with North Korea. In an interview with Asahi Shimbun, Moon Chung-in argued that the more intense the US-China conflicts become, the more limited South Korea’s options will be, so it should move toward alleviating the conflicts calling it “transcendental diplomacy.”45 In Hankyoreh, Moon wrote, “there can be no contradiction between Suh Hoon’s efforts to reflect our views in the Biden administration’s review of North Korea policy, and Chung Eui-yong’s discussions on ways to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula with China.”46

Semiconductors at the Heart of the US-China Conflict
On February 24, at the signing of an executive order on supply chains, Biden said, “remember that old proverb: for want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, the horse was lost. It goes on until the kingdom was lost, all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” Showing a chip held in his hand, Biden pointed out the semiconductor shortfall and its potential impact further up the chain. On April 12, at a virtual CEO summit on semiconductor and supply chain resilience, he quoted from a letter from 23 senators and said, “the Chinese Communist Party aggressively plans to reorient and dominate the semiconductor supply chain,” and “China and the rest of the world is not waiting.”47 As a 21st century horseshoe nail becomes a new detonator for conflict between the US and China, it is less likely that South Korea, a world-leading chipmaker, can continue to keep business out of politics.

Major media outlets, whether conservative or progressive, expressed serious concern over the growing uncertainty in the semiconductor industry and the possibility that the US would restrict China by attracting major semiconductor producing countries. Chosun criticized an absence of strategy and stressed the importance of public-private partnership to cope with the impending US-China technology competition. It editorialized that a recent US proposal to ban exports to China of semiconductor manufacturing equipment can make a considerable impact on further investment from Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix in China.48 JoongAng noted that Samsung Electronics was one of the participants at the virtual CEO summit held at the White House on April 12 and urged the government to develop a survival strategy by mobilizing all diplomatic resources rather than leaving the responsibility solely to companies.49

Hankyoreh editorialized over the pros and cons of Biden’s approach to expanding the semiconductor supply chain. It pointed out that the expansion of tax benefits could be seen as an opportunity for Samsung Electronics, which is considering the establishment of additional factories in the US and that China’s pursuit of Korean semiconductors could become more difficult as the US holds China in check. It also expressed concern about negative effects of the competition such as reduction in domestic investment and loss of job opportunities.50 Kyunghyang argued that the driving force of countermeasures to maintain balance between the US and China is securing the best technology and underlined the importance of investment in facilities, R&D, and localization of major equipment and components.51  

North Korea

North Korean test of cruise and ballistic missiles
On March 23, US officials were cited as saying that North Korea fired multiple short-range cruise missiles over the weekend, the first tests since Biden’s inauguration. Without hearing about this from their government, South Korean media and the public seemed both puzzled and angered. Two days later North Korea fired another round of missiles, which the South Korean authorities had initially called “projectiles,” later specified as ballistic missiles.

Conservative newspapers lashed out at the government for its slow and limited response to North Korea’s series of missile tests. JoongAng asked rhetorically how the Korean public felt when they learned of the North Korean cruise missile test, not from their government, but from the foreign press.52 Hankook Ilbo said it was concerning that South Korea’s national security team and military were not only slower than their Japanese counterparts in informing the press and the public about the tests, but seemed unwilling to acknowledge that what the North fired on the 25th were ballistic missiles.53 Chosun Ilbo said the Korean government “has only pursued a fanfare of events with Pyongyang to win domestic elections while turning a blind eye to the military threats posed by the North.”54 Munhwa Ilbo also criticized the South Korean government for “hushing up North Korean missile tests, which would give Kim Jong-un a sense of immunity and incentives to conduct more missile tests.”55 Other conservative newspapers directed their criticisms to North Korea for escalating tensions. For instance, Segye Ilbo said the missile tests are “a bad move and would “only deepen international isolation of the country,” and urged the North to “make a decisive choice before the US door to diplomacy closes.”56

US Congress Hearing on South Korea’s Anti-Leaflet Law
On April 8, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan caucus of the House of Representatives, said it will hold a public hearing titled “Civil and political rights in the Republic of Korea: Implications for human rights on the Peninsula” on April 15. Five witnesses to testify on South Korea’s legislated ban on sending leaflets into North Korea include former South Korea ambassador to Russia Lee In-ho, North Korea Freedom Coalition chairman Suzanne Scholte, Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch John Sifton, commentator on China Gordon Chang, and research fellow Jessica Lee.

At a briefing on April 9, deputy spokesperson of the Unification Ministry Cha Deok-cheol noted that it was his understanding that the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission has no voting power and that its hearings are considered close to a policy research panel. conservative DongA Ilbo expressed disappointment that the Unification Ministry downplayed the public hearing by leaving out its impact on activities promoted by the US administration and Congress to improve human rights. It noted that the spokesperson’s comments showed the government’s concern over the possibility that the hearing will offend North Korea as it will be held on the “Day of the Sun,” the birth anniversary of Kim Il-sung.57

Both Chosun and Hankyoreh noted that it is unusual for Congress to hold a hearing about a South Korean government policy or piece of legislation concerning inter-Korean relations. Chosun strongly criticized that nothing was achieved by imposing the anti-leaflet law but hard rhetoric from North Korea and argued it should be abolished.58 Hankyoreh, on the other hand, argued that the list of five witnesses gives the impression that it is skewed in one direction and stressed the importance of communicating actively with the US Congress so that a more “balanced” distribution of witnesses appears, including residents in the border region, defectors, and others who have worked to improve North Korean human rights.59

ROK-Japan relations

Korea Opposes Release of Radioactive Fukushima Water
At a cabinet meeting on April 13, the Japanese government approved plans to release around 1.25 million tons of contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the Pacific Ocean in two years’ time. The radioactive water, which has accumulated at the complex after a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, will be released over a period of roughly 30 years and also will be diluted to meet international standards before any release. Despite support from the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), this decision angered neighboring countries, including South Korea and China.

Koo Yun-cheol, the head of South Korea’s Office for Government Policy Coordination, presided over an emergency meeting of vice ministers in related agencies, saying, “the government strongly urges transparent disclosure and verification of the entire process of contaminated water treatment at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan,” and “we will convey our government’s concern about the Japanese government’s decision to the international community, including the IAEA.”60 On April 14, Moon Jae-in voiced his concern to Japanese Ambassador Aiboshi Koichi after a credentials-presenting ceremony. At a Blue House meeting, the president said the government should consider the possibility of seeking provisional measures from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and ordered his aides to explore legal action to stop Japan from releasing radioactive water into the ocean.

On the same day, both the Democratic Party and the opposition parties, including the People Power Party, strongly condemned Japan for its decision. Rep. Do Jong-hwan, acting leader of the Democratic Party, and Rep. Joo Ho-young, floor leader of the People Power Party, said that it is difficult to tolerate the Japanese government’s decision that could harm the people’s health.
Major media outlets expressed strong regret, but at the same time, noted that the public needs more than just statements of “regret.” JoongAng laid the blame for the unilateral decision on the Japanese government and noted that there are not many countermeasures that the South Korean government can take other than expressing regret. It criticized the lack of communication with the Japanese government and pointed out that the government should make it clear what “unacceptable” means, whether it requires withdrawal of the decision, or whether it has a plan to achieve that goal.61

Hankyoreh and Kyunghyang strongly criticized the Japanese government’s “irresponsible” decision and its “disregard” for the safety of its neighbors. Hankyoreh wrote Japan has not been forthcoming about sharing basic information and urged the South Korean government to do whatever it takes to protect the public’s safety, including the possibility of taking the case before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.62 Kyunghyang argued that the Japanese government should review the plan and recognize its negative impact on the Tokyo Olympics.63

However, on April 19, during a parliamentary session, Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said, “If (Japan) follows the due processes under the standards of IAEA, (Seoul) has no particular reason to object.”64 Chung mentioned three conditions that Japan should meet to win Seoul’s understanding, providing enough scientific evidence and sufficiently sharing such information; sufficiently consulting in advance, and guaranteeing South Korea’s participation in IAEA’s safety verification process. This remark was made after meeting US climate envoy John Kerry, who reaffirmed Washington’s confidence in the transparency of the Japanese government’s decision. With one year remaining until the next presidential election, it remained to be seen how the South Korean government reconciles the discrepancy in views on the transparency of Japan’s plan and calms domestic concern over the safety and health of the public.

1. “김정은이 직접 반발한다”…범여 의원 35명 한미연합훈련 연기 주장,” Chosun Biz, February 25, 2021,

2. “정세현 ‘김정은 요구대로 올해 한미훈련 중단해야’ 발언 논란,” Maeil Kyungjae, March 4, 2021,

3. “6·15 남측위 ‘한미연합훈련 축소 아니라 중단해야’” Chosun Biz, March 6, 2021,

4. “與 35명 ‘한미연합훈련 연기’에···野 73명 "우리 대통령이 김정은인가" Segye Ilbo, March 3, 2021,

5. “한미연합군사훈련 실시여부와 남북관계에 미치는 영향,” Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, March 1, 2021,

6. 한·미훈련 축소, 코로나·정세관리 감안한 당연한 선택이다,” Kyunghyang Shinmun, March 7, 2021,

7. “방위비분담금 타결, 한·미 동맹 회복 계기 돼야,” JoongAng Ilbo, March 9, 2021,

8. “김정은 지침 좇아 ‘컴퓨터 게임’도 더 축소한 한미훈련,” Munhwa Ilbo, March 8, 2021,

9. “北·中은 군사협력 강화하는데 한·미훈련 축소해서야,” Segye Ilbo, March 7, 2021,

10. “제11차 한미 방위비분담특별협정(SMA) 협상 최종타결,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea, March 10, 2021,

11. “6·15 남측위·민화협 ‘굴욕적 방위비 분담금 협상 파기해야,’” Hankook Kyungjae, March 16, 2021,

12. “공정과 거리가 먼 방위비 협상, 집행 투명성이라도 확보해야,” Kyunghang, March 11, 2021,

13. “‘한-미 방위비’’ 타결안, 과연 합리적이고 공평한가,” Hankyoreh,

14. “방위비분담금 타결, 한·미 동맹 회복 계기 돼야,” JoongAng Daily, March 9, 2021,

15. “한미 방위비 협상 타결, 동맹 정상화 고개 하나 넘었을 뿐,” Dong-A Ilbo, March 9, 2021,

16. “제11차 방위비분담금협정 전문가 평가(종합,” Seoul Pyongyang News, March 10, 2021,

17. Ibid.

18. “제11차 한미 방위비분담특별협정의 주요 내용과 함의,” March 17, 2021,

19. “美 주도 협의체 ‘쿼드 플러스’ 참여, 적극 검토하길,” Segye Ilbo, March 10, 2021,

20. “쿼드 플러스 참여해 한반도 평화 등 실리 챙겨야,” Asia Today, March 10, 2021,

21. “반중 연대 본격화…한국 눈치외교 안 통한다,” JoongAng Ilbo, March 11, 2021,

22. “쿼드에서 재확인된 ‘완전한 북한 비핵화,’” JoongAng Ilbo, March 15, 2021,

23. “정상선언으로 공식 출범한 ‘쿼드’와 적극 동참 당위성,” Munhwa Ilbo, March 15, 2021,

24. “중국 겨냥한 ‘쿼드’ 본격화, 정교하게 대응해야,” Hankyoreh, March 14, 2021,

25. “5년 만의 韓美 2+2 회담…’전략적 모호성’ 유효기간 끝나간다,” Hankook Kyungjae, March 9, 2021,

26. “美·中 대치 전선 가시화, 중국 눈치 보기 그만둬야,” Seoul Kyungjae, March 8, 2021,

27. “미 국무·국방 방한, 대북정책 조율 좋은 기회,” Asia Today, March 11, 2021,

28. “미 국무·국방 방한, 유연한 대북정책·균형외교 설득 기회,” Kookmin Ilbo, March 12, 2021,

29. Kim Hyun-Wook, “한미 2+2 회의 성과와 향후 과제,” The Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, March 23, 2021,

30. “文 정권이 한미 공동성명에 ‘北 비핵화’ 못 넣게 막은 것이다,” Chosun Ilbo, March 19, 2021,

31. Park Byung Gwang, “Assessment on U.S.-China high-level talk and analysis of its strategic implications,” Issue Brief, No. 254, March 24, 2021,

32. “첫 만남부터 정면 충돌한 미중…정부 주시해야,” Hankook Ilbo, March 20, 2021,

33. “신냉전 예고 속 ‘북한 협력’ 비친 미·중, 정부 역할 모색해야,” Hankook Ilbo, March 21, 2021,

34. “심화되는 미·중 갈등, 국익 극대화하는 균형외교 절실,” Kookmin Ilbo, March 22, 2021,

35. “미·중 정면 충돌… 북·중 눈치보기 외교 궤도 수정해야,” Segye Ilbo, March 21, 2021,

36. “‘화약 냄새’ 미중 신냉전, 눈치보기로는 활로 없다,” Segye Ilbo, March 21, 2021,

37. “미·중 냉전 속 한·미 포괄적 대북 공조 절실,” Asia Today, March 21, 2021,

38. “한반도가 미국 대중 전략의 하위변수는 아니다,” Hankyoreh, March 21, 2021,

39. “S. Korea, Japan, U.S. agree on need to quickly resume dialogue with N. Korea,” Yonhap News Agency, April 3, 2021,

40. “王毅同韩国外长郑义溶举行会谈,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, April 3,

41. “미·중 압박 시험대 오른 한국, 균형외교로 핵심이익 지켜야,” Kyunghyang Shinmun, April 1, 2021,

42. “S. Korean government needs to make meaningful progress on resumption of N. Korea-U.S. talks,” The Hankyoreh, April 5, 2021,

43. “A rush to China,” JoongAang Daily, April 1, 2021,

44. “韓을 약한 고리로 잡은 中, 우리가 자초한 수렁,” Chosun Ilbo, April 5, 2021,

45. “’超越的外交』が生きる道’: 韓国の元大統領補佐官に聞く,” Asahi Shimbun, April 11, 2021,

46. Moon Chung-in, “한국 외교 논쟁의 세 가지 퍼즐, Hankyoreh, April 18, 2021,

47. “Remarks by President Biden at a Virtual CEO Summit on Semiconductor and Supply Chain Resilience,” the White House, April 12, 2021,

48. “대통령이 직접 반도체 챙기는 미국, 우리는 무슨 전략 있나,” Chosun Ilbo, April 14, 2021,

49. “미·중 반도체 대립 격화, 정부는 전략 있나,” JoongAng Ilbo, April 14, 2021,

50. “미-중 반도체 전쟁, 민관 힘합쳐 전화위복 기회로,” Hankyoreh, April 13, 2021,

51. “반도체 국가전략 시급성 확인한 백악관 반도체 회의,” Kyunghyang Shinmun, April 13, 2021,

52. “북한 미사일 도발, 외신 보고 알아야 하나,” JoongAng Ilbo, March 25, 2021,

53. “北 탄도미사일 발사에 늑장 대응 아닌가,” Hankook Ilbo, March 26, 2021,

54. “北 미사일 발사 숨기고 변호하고, 北 인권 결의안엔 불참하고,” Chosun Ilbo, March 25, 2021,

55. “北 순항·탄도미사일 연쇄 도발…이래도 文정권 굴종하나,” Munhwa Ilbo, March 25, 2021,

56. “北 미사일 도발·인권문제 눈치만 볼 때인가” Segye Ilbo, March 25, 2021,

57. “美 대북 인권 청문회 깎아내린 통일부, 北 대변인인가,” Donga Ilbo, April 12, 2021,

58. “美 의회서 열리는 대북전단法 청문회, 文정권 청문회다,” Chosun Ilbo, April 10, 2021,

59. “Anti-leaflet law hearing in U.S. can be opportunity for S. Korea to explain its position on anti-N. Korea leaflets,” The Hankyoreh, April 14, 2021,

60. “S. Korea expresses ‘strong regret’ over Japan’s decision to release water from Fukushima,” Yonhap News Agency, April 13, 2021,

61. “후쿠시마 방류 결정, 정부는 그동안 뭘 했나,” JoongAng Ilbo, April 15, 2021,

62. “Ocean release of Fukushima water is unacceptable,” The Hankyoreh, April 14, 2021,

63. “일본의 무책임한 후쿠시마 오염수 방류 결정 용납 못한다,” Kyunghyang Shinmun, April 13, 2021,

64. “FM: Seoul has no reason to object if Japan’s Fukushima water release follows IAEA standards,” Yonhap News Agency, April 19, 2021,