In an early sign of a strong alliance under US President Joe Biden, South Korea Defence Minister Suh Wook has announced that the annual spring military exercises with the US would be resumed this year and such actions have raised China’s concerns.
As part of former US President Donald Trump’s “effort to maintain a truce he had struck with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un”, the drills usually held in March every year by the US and South Korea were either suspended or downsized since 2018. And in 2020, the drills could not be held due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Soon after resuming office, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin in a telephonic conversation with his South Korean counterpart Suh Wook assured Seoul of the US’ “ironclad” commitment to defend its long-term ally through joint defence work.
Similarly, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated “the enduring strength and importance of the alliance between the US and South Korea” to South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.
Blinken further said strong ties between the US and South Korea is necessary as the latter is “the linchpin of peace, security and prosperity for a free and open Indo-Pacific region and across the world”.
This has worried China as it sees the ties as a “part of a regional coalition to curb its own growing political and military influence”.
On January 26, in an attempt to woo South Korea, Chinese President Xi Jinping called up President Moon Jae-in to show his support to inter-Korea dialogue and talks between the US and North Korea.
“Although South Korea is economically dependent on China, national security is far more important than economics,” said Shen Dingli, a Shanghai-based scholar of international relations.
“South Korea will be closer to the US in the Biden administration because its goal is to maintain peace in East Asia under the US’ leadership,” Shen added.