SEOUL — South Korea has not jumped on board with the goal of a “free and open Indo-Pacific region” advocated by the U.S. and Japan, probably leery of provoking China just as the two countries have begun mending fences.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed Monday to work closer together to promote stability and growth in a region spanning both sides of the Indian Ocean, from Asia to Africa.
Trump pitched the diplomatic strategy to President Moon Jae-in when the two met here Tuesday, but Moon did not agree to participate. The joint statement afterward noticeably attributed the view that the U.S.-South Korean alliance “remains a linchpin for security, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific” only to Trump.
South Korea’s presidential Blue House holds that more discussion is needed to determine whether the Indo-Pacific concept is appropriate for the region.
Tokyo “is trying to build a diplomatic line including Japan, Australia, India and the U.S., but there’s no need for us to be part of it,” Moon aide Kim Hyun-chul told South Korean reporters Thursday in Jakarta.
Some in Moon’s administration have expressed concern that the strategy seems aimed to contain China and its maritime ambitions. Seoul and Beijing recently agreed to improve ties frayed by South Korea’s decision to host an advanced American missile defense system. Seoul apparently seeks to focus on working with the U.S. and Japan to deal with the North Korean missile and nuclear threat, while taking China’s interests into consideration.