Europe-South Korea relations key to managing fallout of US-China rivalry

According to former ambassadors and government officials, it is important that Europe nurtures closer ties with South Korea under South Korean President elect Yoon Suk-yeol to manage China’s rising power and the increasing rivalry between the United States and Beijing.

The conflict in Ukraine also makes EU-South Korea cooperation important, said former officials in a report to be released later Tuesday by the Brussels School of Governance.

Yoon has said he plans to dispatch a delegation of special envoys to the EU before he takes office on May 10, marking one of the first such delegations by his transition team.

“Cooperation between Seoul and Brussels can help mitigate the most negative effects of Sino–American competition and ensure that the United States does not turn on its allies but rather cooperates with them,” said the authors of the report, which include former EU and South Korean envoys.

Yoon has vowed to look beyond North Korea and make South Korea a bigger player on the international scene, including by expanding “the breadth of diplomacy in the EU and throughout Asia.”

Traditionally, South Korea-Europe relations have taken a back seat to both sides’ alliances with the United States. A much needed deeper cooperation is likely to help boost their strategic value to both China and the US, said Kim Chang-beom, a former South Korean ambassador to the EU.

He went on to add, “It would give additional manoeuvring rooms for South Korea in its dealings with the policy dilemma arising from the rising competition”.

“Both sides should establish bilateral councils and diplomatic hotlines, and cooperate on issues such as North Korea’s denuclearisation,” states the report.

It goes on to read, both “sides should also modernize their free trade agreement, which has been superseded in terms of scope and ambition by the agreements that the EU has signed with direct South Korean competitors like Japan.”

“South Korea’s bid to join the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) could have a negative effect on trade links between South Korean and European firms if not addressed,” states the report.

“I think that the need for cooperation goes beyond specific issues,” said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, the Korea Chair at the Brussels School of Governance, while noting their shared interests and values, and capabilities. “But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or China’s assertiveness make clear that there are specific reasons why Korea and the EU need to cooperate.”

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