[EAI Online Seminar] After Trump Series 2. Prospects for U.S.-South Korea Cooperation in an Era of U.S.-China Strategic Competition

  • 2020-11-13


The East Asia Institute(President Yul Sohn) and Brookings Institution jointly held the 2nd online seminar of the  series, titled "Prospects for U.S.-South Korea Cooperation in an Era of U.S.-China Strategic Competition". On Friday, November 13, panelists from EAI and the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at Brookings discussed various issues including 1) How can the U.S. and South Korea more effectively coordinate on China? 2) What is the impact of U.S.-China strategic competition in various policy domains? 3) What is the agenda for U.S.-South Korea bilateral cooperation in ensuring a stable and inclusive regional order? 




Keynote session



Mireya Solis

Director & Senior Fellow, Brookings

Keynote Speaker

Marc Knapper 

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea and Japan

Session 1: Politics and security



Jung H. Pak

SK-Korea Foundation Chair in Korea Studies
Senior Fellow, Brookings


Chaesung Chun

Chair, National Security Research Center, EAI
Professor, Seoul National University

Young-Sun Ha

Chairman of the Board of Trustees, EAI
Professor Emeritus, Seoul National University

Jonathan D. Pollack

Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings

Lindsey W. Ford

David M. Rubenstein Fellow, Brookings

Sook Jong Lee

Senior Fellow, EAI
Professor, Sungkyunkwan University

Session 2: Economy, energy, and environment





Yul Sohn

President, EAI
Professor, Yonsei University


David Dollar

Senior Fellow, Brookings

YoungJa Bae

Professor, Konkuk University

Mireya Solis

Director & Senior Fellow, Brookings

Samantha Gross

Director & Fellow, Brookings

Wang Hwi Lee

Professor, Ajou University

Jeffrey Ball

Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings


Keynote session

Session 1: Politics and security

Session 2: Economy, energy, and environment

※ Provided below are selected excerpts from panelists during the seminar.


Session 1: Politics and security


Protecting Regional Democracy through the ROK-US Alliance

Marc Kanpper: In 1990s, the ROK-US relations was very much about the Korean Peninsula and the constant threat from North Korea. However, the relationship has now expanded to encompass trade, investment, health and environment. Countries like South Korea, United States and Japan which share regional democracy and the value of human rights need to speak out against China regarding issues such as human rights, Xinjiang and Hong Kong.


South Korea’s Insufficient Contribution to Regional Security Cooperation amid US-China Competition

Lindsey W. Ford: While extensive cooperation has been pursued in the Indo-Pacific region, led by QUAD countries, South Korea has not actively participated in security cooperation at the regional level for a long time, only focusing on Korean Peninsula issues. It is natural for South Korea to prioritize its domestic security tasks including the North Korean nuclear threat, but considering South Korea’s status at the regional and global levels, as well as its expanding economic cooperation, its contribution to regional security cooperation is still insignificant. South Korea can more actively present a vision on regional peace and security based on Moon Jae-in government’s New Southern Policy; and may contribute more tosecurity cooperation within the Indo-Pacific region.


North Korea’s Denuclearization Issue: A Foothold for Cooperation or Another Obstacle for the Biden Administration?

Young-Sun Ha: Immediately after the Hanoi Summit, North Korea complained to the US about various obstacles to denuclearization, and conveyed its intention that only partial denuclearization is possible. In this state, South Korea and the US need to prepare for the complete denuclearization roadmap. For the new calculation for North Korea-US denuclearization talks, North Korea strongly insists on the three stages of denuclearization. The three-stage denuclearization strategy includes: 1) unilateral process of trust building, 2) a step by step simultaneous action for the exchange of the partial reduction of nuclear capabilities, excluding nuclear capabilities for minimum deterrence and the gradual lifting of sanctions and the beginning of the peace building on the peninsula, and 3) implementation of both complete denuclearization of North Korea including minimum deterrence and the complete security guarantee on the basis of abolishment, US hostile policy toward North Korea, including US forces in Korea and also nuclear strategic assets around the Korean Peninsula through nuclear arms control talks in the Asia Pacific.


Biden’s New America, and the Future of the ROK-US alliance

Sook Jong Lee: Based on the survey result from 2005 to 2020 conducted by the East Asia Institute on Korean Identity, Korean’s support for the Korea-US alliance has been strengthened since the mid-2000s. Over the past 15 years, support for the Korea-US alliance has increased by 17.6 percent, and the support base has been solid regardless of ideology and political orientation.



Session 2: Economy, Energy and Environment


Finding the Right Balance between National Security and Economic Interdependence

Yul Sohn: In contrast to the Unites States that can leverage its power to increase its strategic and economic counterbalance to China, South Korea is forced to play a more complex game. Given its deep yet asymmetric economic interdependence with China as well as demands for Chinese cooperation with regard to North Korean threats, South Korea needs to accommodate China while at the same time courting US engagement both economically and militarily. In that sense, two countries need strategic consultation and coordination over complex interdependence in the following three areas. 1) A recent development in weaponized trade and interdependence invoking national security boils down to the question of how we can restrain the abuse of a broader definition of security, namely over-securitization, and strike a right balance of national security and economic interdependence. South Korea underwent THAAD retaliation by China, US countervailing duties on steel and aluminum under Section 232, and Japan’s tightening of export controls over chemical components crucial to South Korea’s semiconductor industry. 2) Second question comes down to the China challenge, where the world is struggling to seek a collective approach against China’s disruptive mercantilist behaviors. 3) Last area of concern is the compelling need for a rules-based economic order in the region, which would restrain Chinese predation, America’s protectionism, increase middle power space, and sustain liberal norms.


ROK-US Cooperation against the China Challenge

David Dollar: Chinese practices that deviate from international norms are spreading protectionism, weakening intellectual property rights, and providing generic tax breaks for R&D subsidies. In spite of all, decoupling the U.S. economy from the Chinese economy is not practical nor can it get popular support from Asian countries neighboring China, including South Korea, to which costs of decoupling could be directed. The US should rather make an attempt to address specific practices abovementioned, in coordination with allies and partners, instead of complete decoupling. South Korea plays a significant role in consistently conveying messages to the US that decoupling could bring about a considerable aftermath to its allies, and that larger trade agreements are necessary to set a good foundation for trade in the Asia-Pacific region.



Will the Biden Administration Rejoin TPP?

Yul Sohn: South Korea and the United States should be able to set an example of upholding a rules-based international order. In this regard, for the United States, rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is a powerful signal of its return to global leadership, reassuring its commitment in the region to its allies and partners. This will prove more effective than unilateral actions for forging a preferable order that restrains China’s predatory behavior. A Biden administration will not prioritize reentering CPTPP, but it might converse to fix some CPTPP “problems” and rejoin if conditions are right. At the same time, South Korea will need to pursue a two-track approach: 1) building a domestic coalition that enables it to join the CPTPP membership, on one hand; and 2) recovering cooperative relationships with Japan in ways that coordinate efforts to reengage the United States to strengthen rules and norms on China, on the other.


Energy Cooperation May Be the Key to Thawing US-China Tensions

Samantha Gross: Whilst tensions between the US and China are sharply on the rise, especially in traditional areas of cooperation including economy and security, energy cooperation may be a good place to start the dialogue, since interests are so obviously aligned in this area-the liquified natural gas (LNG) sector. For the US, China and South Korea, respectively the world’s second and third largest importer of LNG, are a very attractive market. At the same time, the US’s LNG supply not only is affordable but also helps South Korea and China diversify its import sources, whose demand for LNG will be on the rise following their pledges to decrease the prevalence of coal.


Pledges on Carbon Neutrality Should Be Translated into Action

Jeffery Ball: The world is witnessing a race of pledges on de-carbonization or carbon neutrality, including President Moon Jae-in’s recent announcement to go carbon neutral by 2050 as well as pledges made by leaders of Japan, China, Europe and more. What really matters is to translate such pledges into action, and in order to operationalize such goals, geopolitical strategies need to be established and economic incentives should be provided. Many of the developed countries that announced to reduce their carbon consumption are indeed investing heavily in coal infrastructure businesses in developing countries like Vietnam. The pledges therefore should not only be limited to the domestic level, but also be expanded to the global level. Countries need to shift economic incentives so that various key players in the traditional energy sector including multinational corporations and international-development bank, can foresee profits from clean energy that are as alluring as those they have long have inked from dirty energy.


Speaker and Moderator Bios


YoungJa Bae is a Professor of the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy at Konkuk University. Dr. Bae received her PhD in political science at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the United States and serves on the policy advisory committee to the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and vice chairman of the Korean Association of International Studies. She was a visiting scholar at National Taiwan University under Taiwan Fellowship. Her main research interests include international politics and S&T, science diplomacy, and international political economy. Her major papers include "Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment and National Security," "US-China competition and Science and Technology Innovation" and "S&T Diplomacy as Public Diplomacy: Theoretical Understanding".


Yul Sohn is the president of EAI and a professor at Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Studies. He received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago. He previously served as the dean of Yonsei University GSIS, president of the Korean Association of International Studies, and president of the Korean Studies of Contemporary Japan. His research focuses on the Japanese and international political economy, East Asian regionalism, and public diplomacy. His recent publications include Japan and Asia's Contested Order (2018, with T.J. Pempel), and Understanding Public Diplomacy in East Asia (2016, with Jan Melissen).


Sook Jong Lee is a Professor of Public Administration at Sungkyunkwan University and Senior Fellow of the East Asia Institute. She has been directing the Asian Democracy Research Network since its formation in 2015, leading a network of about nineteen research organizations across Asia to promote democracy with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy. Her recent publications include Transforming Global Governance with Middle Power Diplomacy: South Korea’s Role in the 21st Century (ed. 2016), and Keys to Successful Presidency in South Korea (ed. 2013 and 2016).


Wang Hwi Lee is a Professor of Political Science and Dean of the Division of International Studies at Ajou University, Suwon, South Korea, where he has taught international political economy since 2006. He is the author of “The Politics of Economic Reform in South Korea: Crony Capitalism after Ten Years”, “Pulling South Korea away from China’s Orbit: The Strategic Implications of the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement” and “Crisis Management of the COVID-19 Pandemic in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore.” His research interests have been focused on issues of the political economy of economic policy and institutions in East Asian countries. Lee received his Ph.D. from London School of Economics and Political Science.


Chaesung Chun is the Chair of the National Security Research Center at the East Asia Institute, and a Professor of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Seoul National University. Dr. Chun received his PhD in international relations at Northwestern University in the United States, and serves on the policy advisory committee to the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Unification. His main research interests include international political theory, the ROK-US alliance, and Korean Peninsular affairs. He is the co-author of The Korean War: Threat and Peace, and the author of a number of publications including Are Politics Moral and International Politics in East Asia: History and Theory.


Young-Sun Ha is chairman of the board of trustees of the East Asia Institute. He is also a professor emeritus at Seoul National University’s department of political science and international relations. Ha currently serves as a member of the senior advisory group for the Inter-Korean Summit Talks Preparation Committee. He also served as a member of the Presidential National Security Advisory Group, co-chairman of Korea-Japan Joint Research Project for New Era, president of the Korea Peace Studies Association, and research fellow at Princeton University’s Center for International Studies and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. His recent books and edited volumes include A New Perspective on the Diplomatic History of Korea, World Politics of Love: War and Peace, U.S.-China Competition in the Architecture of a Regional Order in the Asia-Pacific; Korean Peninsula Among Big Powers: 1972 vs. 2014, Complex World Politics: Strategies, Principles, and a New Order, The Future of North Korea 2032: The Strategy of Coevolution for the Advancement, The Emergence of Complex Alliances in the 21st Century, and A New Era of Complex Networks in Korea-Japan Relations. He received his BA and MA from Seoul National University and his PhD from the University of Washington.


 Jeffrey Ball, a writer whose work focuses on energy and the environment, is scholar-in-residence at Stanford University’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance and a lecturer at Stanford Law School. He also is a nonresident senior fellow in the Brookings Institution's Energy Security and Climate Initiative. Ball’s writing has appeared in Fortune, Texas Monthly, Mother Jones, the New Republic, Foreign Affairs, Joule, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, among other publications. At the Stanford center, a joint initiative of Stanford’s law and business schools, Ball heads a project assessing the climate implications of infrastructure investment by major economies including China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, coal burner, and renewable-energy producer. Among Ball’s writing honors were two in 2019: He won a New York Press Club Award for Journalism and was named a finalist for a Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism for “Lone Star Rising,” a 2018 long-form story he wrote in Fortune on how a renewed oil boom in West Texas’ Permian Basin, one of the world’s biggest oil-producing areas, is reshaping both the region and the global energy system. Ball was the primary author of a 2017 Stanford report that assessed countries’ comparative advantages in the globalizing clean-energy sector. That report, The New Solar System, was released in March 2017 and laid out a strategy to boost solar energy to a level that would contribute meaningfully to global carbon reductions. Ball came to Stanford in 2011 from The Wall Street Journal, where he was the paper’s environment editor and before that was a columnist and reporter focusing on energy and the environment. He graduated from Yale University, where he was editor-in-chief of the Yale Daily News. Follow him on Twitter at @jeff_ball.


David Dollar is a senior fellow in the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution and host of the Brookings trade podcast, Dollar&Sense. He is a leading expert on China's economy and U.S.-China economic relations. From 2009 to 2013, he was the U.S. Treasury’s economic and financial emissary to China, based in Beijing, facilitating the macroeconomic and financial policy dialogue between the United States and China. Prior to joining Treasury, Dollar worked 20 years for the World Bank, serving as country director for China and Mongolia, based in Beijing (2004-2009). His other World Bank assignments focused on Asian economies, including South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Bangladesh, and India. Dollar also worked in the World Bank’s research department. His publications focus on economic reform in China, globalization, and economic growth. He also taught economics at University of California Los Angeles, during which time he spent a semester in Beijing at the Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 1986. He has a doctorate in economics from New York University and a bachelor's in Chinese history and language from Dartmouth College.


Lindsey W. Ford is a David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Foreign Policy program. She is also an adjunct lecturer at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Her research focuses on U.S. defense strategy in the Asia-Pacific region, including U.S. security alliances, military posture, and regional security architecture. Ford is a frequent commentator on Asian security and defense issues and her analysis has been featured by outlets including the New York Times, the Wall St. Journal, the Financial Times, Politico, Foreign Policy, the Straits Times, CNN, MSNBC, and Bloomberg. She graduated with a master’s in public affairs and Asian studies from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin, and a bachelor’s in vocal performance from Samford University. director for political-security affairs at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI). From 2009-15, She served in a variety of roles within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. She also served as the senior adviser to the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affair. She was also a leading architect of the Asia rebalance strategy work for the Department of Defense’s 2012 “Defense Strategic Guidance Review” and oversaw the development of the Department’s first “Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy” in 2015.


Samantha Gross is a fellow and director of the Energy Security and Climate Initiative. Her work is focused on the intersection of energy, environment, and policy, including climate policy and international cooperation, energy efficiency, unconventional oil and gas development, regional and global natural gas trade, and the energy-water nexus. She holds a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois, a Master of Science in environmental engineering from Stanford, and a Master of Business Administration from the University of California at Berkeley. She has been a visiting fellow at the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, where she authored work on clean energy cooperation and on post-Paris climate policy. She was director of the Office of International Climate and Clean Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy. Prior to her time at the Department of Energy, Gross was director of integrated research at IHS CERA. She managed the IHS CERA Climate Change and Clean Energy forum and the IHS relationship with the World Economic Forum. She also authored numerous papers on energy and environment topics and was a frequent speaker on these topics.


Jung H. Pak is a senior fellow and the SK-Korea Foundation Chair in Korea Studies at Brookings Institution’s Center for East Asia Policy Studies. She received her doctorate from Columbia University in U.S. history. Her research interests include the national security challenges facing the United States and East Asia, including North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities, the regime’s domestic and foreign policy calculus, internal stability, and inter-Korean ties. She is also focused on developing interdisciplinary forums to bolster regional dialogue on counterterrorism, nonproliferation, cybersecurity, and climate change. Her recent publications include Becoming Kim Jong Un: A Former CIA Officer’s Insights into North Korea’s Enigmatic Young Dictator.


Jonathan D. Pollack is a nonresident senior fellow in the John L. Thornton China Center and Center for East Asia Policy at the Brookings Institution. Between 2012 and 2014, he served as director of the John L. Thornton China Center. Prior to joining Brookings in 2010, he was professor of Asian and Pacific Studies and chairman of the Strategic Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. He previously worked at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California, where he served in various senior research and management positions, including chairman of the political science department, corporate research manager for international policy and senior advisor for international policy. His recent publications include Strategic Surprise? U.S.-China Relations in the Early 21st Century, Korea-The East Asian Pivot, Asia Eyes America: Regional Perspective on U.S. Asia-Pacific Strategy in the 21st Century. His principal research interests include Chinese national security strategy; U.S.-China relations; U.S. strategy in Asia and the Pacific; Korean politics and foreign policy; Asian international politics; and nuclear weapons and international security. He received his master's and doctorate in political science from the University of Michigan, and was a post-doctoral research fellow at Harvard University.


Mireya Solís is director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies, Philip Knight Chair in Japan Studies, and a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. Prior to her arrival at Brookings, Solís was a tenured associate professor at American University’s School of International Service. Solís received a doctorate in government and a master's in East Asian studies from Harvard University, and a bachelor's in international relations from El Colegio de México. Solís is an expert on Japanese foreign economic policy, U.S.-Japan relations, international trade policy, and Asia-Pacific economic integration. Her publications include Banking on Multinationals: Public Credit and the Export of Japanese Sunset Industries, Cross-Regional Trade Agreements: Understanding Permeated Regionalism in East Asia (co-editor), Competitive Regionalism: FTA Diffusion in the Pacific Rim. Solís has offered expert commentary to The New York Times, Financial Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Politico, The New Yorker, Nikkei, Kyodo News, Asahi Shimbun, Jiji Press, Japan Times, NHK World, Bloomberg, CNN, and BBC, among others.