Nancy Pelosi’s visit to South Korea confirmed the U.S. partnership with Seoul

South Korea view from the satellite e1659715352269
Satellite night image of the Korean Peninsula: the image highlights the difference between South Korea and North Korea related to economic cities (Credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from Greenbelt, MD, USA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Author: Riccardo Rossi

Nancy Pelosi’s visit to South Korea highlighted Seoul’s role in Washington’s Asia-Pacific strategy to contrast North Korea’s military threat in the Korean Peninsula and, at the regional level, confront the rising Chinese presence.

After a visit to Taiwan on August 3rd, 2022, which caused Beijing’s harsh critics and reactions (Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan: will the United States reinforce the Pivot to Asia policy?), the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, landed in South Korea at the U.S. Airforce Base in Osan, stressing the geostrategic role that Seoul has in Washington’s regional policy, the stabilisation process of the Korean Peninsula, and the protection of free navigation in the Korean Strait.

The geostrategic importance of the Korean peninsula

Since the beginning of Joe Biden’s Administration, the White House has given South Korea a strategic role in countering the increasing assertiveness of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on the peninsula and near the territorial waters of the Rising Sun (The new North Korean missile platforms and the strategic consequences in the Asia-Pacific).

Washington has considered the ongoing North Korean missile tests dangerous and a regional threat in recent years. The North Korean threat became more serious when, in the first half of 2022, Pyongyang launched from its submarine (probably Sinpo-class, located in the waters of the Sea of Japan near the North Korean Sinpo Navy base) a KN-23 short-range submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) that travelled a distance of approximately 600 kilometres (North Korea launched a ballistic missile from a submarine).

To cope with North Korean military development, the U.S. has developed a complex strategy by strengthening the relations and cooperation with the Republic of Korea and maintaining a bilateral dialogue with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Therefore, in recent years, Washington has improved cooperation with Seoul by reaching essential agreements in the economic trade and strategic-military spheres.

In the economic sphere, Washington-Seoul cooperation has enabled better integration between the markets of the two countries. Indeed, according to the Office of the United State Trade Representative’s report in 2020, the U.S.-South Korean bilateral trade has been quantified at $154.9 billion. Specifically, in 2019, the U.S. foreign direct investments (FDIs) in South Korea were about $39.1 billion, while that of South Korean multinationals in the U.S. market stood at $61.8 billion, mostly in wholesale trade and manufacturing (Analysis of President Biden’s visits to Japan and South Korea).

In addition to strengthening trade relations, the United States has strengthened military partnership and collaboration with South Korea to defend the Korean Peninsula from Pyongyang’s missile tests and possible invasion. Since the Obama Administration recognised the strategic importance of the Asia-Pacific region through the Pivot to Asia, Washington has supported Seoul’s military development by providing Seoul Government with the THAAD anti-missile system in 2017, promoting training activities with the South Korean military, and enhancing U.S Navy, Army, and Airforce bases in the Republic of Korea to expand the range of missions that the U.S. military can perform. These include the reconnaissance of geo-maritime hubs in the China Sea claimed by the People’s Republic of China, such as the Korea Strait and Miyako (U.S. maritime military presence near the Korean peninsula; Geostrategy and military competition in the Korean Peninsula).

Furthermore, to maintain regional stability and security in the Korean Peninsula, the United States has considered the development of bilateral dialogue with the People’s Republic of China as an indispensable aspect of resolving crises between Pyongyang and Seoul through diplomacy. In this framework, it is possible to highlight the following agreements:

1) Beijing’s double freeze proposal to Washington formulated the suspension of North Korean nuclear tests if the U.S. and South Korea ended their military exercises.

2) Trump-Xi Jinping understanding which was reached in 2017 after North Korea’s missile tests caused U.S. economic sanctions against the Kim-Jong Un regime at the United Nations Security Council (North Korea-China economic relations and the United Nations sanctions)

Risk Assessment

Nancy Pelosi’s decision to travel to South Korea might reinforce the Biden administration’s policy line of stabilising the peninsula by countering the increasing politico-military assertiveness of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, primarily attributable to its nuclear missile development programme.

In implementing this project, Washington considers it essential to deepen its political-strategic relations with Seoul and keep a privileged diplomatic channel open with the People’s Republic of China because of the Kim-Jong-Un regime’s total political-economic dependence on Beijing.

From these considerations, it can be assumed that in the coming years, South Korea and the People’s Republic of China will play a key role in preserving the stability of the peninsula. Thus, the U.S. will have to interface with Seoul and Beijing to resolve possible hostile actions by North Korea peacefully.

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