This study aims to understand the US-China strategic competition in the Biden era and explore future strategy and policy options for Korea. The US-China strategic competition has recently increased in science and technology, military, and geo-strategic terms on a global scale. This competition has provided Korea with an opportunity to rise as a great power, together with various challenges in diplomatic, security, and economic terms. This process will naturally come with certain difficulties. Korea could face the constant pressure of making choices. The consequences of the strategic competition are uncertain. It accompanies a paradigm shift in which numerous events and behaviors cannot be explained and predicted with given norms, patterns, or practices.
It is imperative to evaluate the possible consequences of the US-China strategic competition and its implications for South Korea. The following four scenarios are possible:
- A new form of Cold War
- Strategic competition with complementary cooperation
- Strategic cooperation with complementary competition
- US-China coevolution or compromise
This study evaluated each scenario and its implications for South Korea.
Noteworthy is that two broadly accepted assumptions must be reexamined under these new circumstances. First is the assumption that the US-China strategic competition will be protracted. The second assumption lies in the belief of US superiority over China and the solid US-ROK alliance as a constant factor. In reality, we could consider a scenario where China assumes regional supremacy over East Asia. Regardless of any wishes on our part, there is a need to consider all these assumptions as variables, and to remain flexible and creative when formulating counter-strategies.
This study tentatively suggests strategy to strengthen the ROK-US alliance to the global level. The ROK-US alliance remains the pillar of the ROK’s diplomatic and security policies. However, the ROK must also respect its strategic cooperative partnership with China. More importantly, the ROK has worked hard to establish active collaboration with like-minded countries. The ROK should not fall into the trap of rashly choosing one country over the other, and instead opt for a strategy which minimizes possible costs rather than maximizing potential benefits.