Ⅰ.Values and Norms as Sociocultural Foundation of International Order
Ⅱ. Sino-American Values Competition: Liberal Universalism versus Defiant Struggle for Recognition
Ⅲ. Case: Vaccine Diplomacy of Washington and Beijing
The U.S.-China rivalry has been expanding beyond the arenas of military, economics, trade, and technology to the realm of values as the new Biden administration drives human rights and liberal democracy up to the forefront of its foreign policy. This, in turn, intensifies “bloc-ization of values” between liberalism centering around the U.S. on the one hand, and counter-liberalism around China on the other. A country’s superiority in values competition not only pays off as soft power dividends as it helps the country obtain intended outcomes without resorting to coercion or payments; value superiority also translates a country’s material power into legitimate authority, eventually contributing to gain the upper hand in shaping international order on its favor. In this sense, values could be a foundational source of the international order.
How could we define values competition currently underway between the U.S. and China, particularly since the launch of the Biden administration? How is it waged between the two great powers and what implications does it have for today’s international order? What are its implications for South Korea? Raising these questions, this report starts with a conceptual frame, under which values and values competition are understood as the socio-cultural basis of the international order; based on the conceptual referent, assesses the current modality of Sino-American values competition; explores vaccine diplomacy of the two countries as an empirical case that reflects their advocating values; and finally, draws some implications for South Korea.
Ⅰ.Values and Norms as Sociocultural Foundation of International Order
Defining the international order involves a synthesis of situational and normative approaches. It refers to the existing distribution of power or the aggregation of norms, procedures and institutions that structure the international society at any given time. The international order at any given time is thus understood as consisting of two pillars & the distribution of material capabilities on the one hand, and the distribution of values and norms, or “collective beliefs” more broadly, on the other. Collective beliefs regarding the nature of authority, the legitimation of rule, and the form of the polity shared by members of the international society, together with material capabilities, are important elements constituting a stable international order. They provide a cognitive framework through which actors understand and give meaning to their world, as well as their actions. These beliefs including values and norms serve to define the nature of the political order and legitimate authority; demarcate the boundaries of the political community; contain formal and informal principles that govern the interaction between members in the system, as well as with polities outside the system; and influence the status position of the polities within the system. Identity derives not just from the interaction of actors, but from the background of cognitive schemas, from collective belief systems that are anterior to the patterns of interaction. Collective beliefs thus create the foundation of political order and structure relations within and between polities.
Although the distribution of material capabilities is an important factor for changing an international order, it is by no sense determinative, providing a context of change. The spread of collective beliefs could breed a stable international order even without a dominant hegemon or a dominant consortium of great power. Status in an anarchic international hierarchy is defined here as “collective beliefs about a given state’s ranking on valued attributes(wealth, coercive capabilities, culture, demographic position, sociopolitical organization, and diplomatic clout)” and thus, refers to a state’s relative standing on important, both material and non-material, markers. States that need others’ recognition of their status in the international society & such as hegemon, great power, and middle power & would advocate specific values and norms embedded in their identity for the purpose of securing legitimacy and authority of their claimed status. International order does have a sociocultural, and material, foundation in that states pursue others’ recognition of their own cultural elements that include values and norms.
A stable normative international order could be obtained when an effective “diversity regime” is established. Diversity regimes, defined as “system-wide norms and practices that simultaneously configure authority and organize diversity,” take extant cultural heterogeneity and construct authorized forms of difference. Material might has to be converted into political authority, while extant diversity has to be converted into authorized forms of difference. To meet these challenges, international order builders self-consciously organize and institutionalize cultural diversity in ways that make cultural difference legible and controllable, and reconcile the authorized forms of cultural difference with existing structures of power and privilege. Diversity regimes authorize and order certain forms of cultural difference and relate these to legitimate units of political authority and create social hierarchies and patterns of inclusion and exclusion. They are institutionalized forms of recognition: they recognize cultural identities, constituting them in the process, and allocating rights and entitlements.
At the same time, however, diversity regimes are institutionalized forms of disrespect. From extant cultural heterogeneity, they privilege some axes of cultural difference and expression while marginalizing others. Diversity regimes are thus Janus-faced. Because they are institutionalized forms of recognition, they help legitimate rule under conditions of cultural heterogeneity. But because they produce social and political hierarchies, diversity regimes have the hard-wired potential for alienation, humiliation, stigmatization, and, in turn, political resistance and mobilization. Thus, diversity regimes face two pressures for change & shifts in the underlying distribution of material capabilities on the one hand, and new cultural claims, often animated by grievances against the hierarchies and exclusions of prevailing and past regimes, on the other. The hierarchies and exclusions created by diversity regimes thus breed recognition struggles, encouraging processes of defiant struggles for recognition, as aggrieved actors mobilize around insurgent cultural identities. The causal flows between these two sources and stability and change of international order could be briefly schematized as in [Figure 1].
Seen from this conceptual prism, today’s Sino-American rivalry is conceived of not only a competition on a material power basis, but a competition for authority anchored on values embedded in each country’s identity. Today’s Sino-American geopolitical rivalry thus is not simply political and geographical, but also sociocultural.
Ⅱ. Sino-American Values Competition: Liberal Universalism versus Defiant Struggle for Recognition
The U.S., as the core state of the West and Western civilization, has institutionalized ever since the end of World War II a series of principles, norms, and institutions reflecting liberal values and political and economic interest of the West, which is often called “Liberal International Order (LIO).” American values diplomacy of the post-Cold War era, in particular, could be defined as “liberal universalism” with such characteristics as listed in [Table 1].
Under the foundational basis of liberal universalism, post-Cold War U.S. administrations have revealed variations in foreign policy. Liberal universalism was expressed as expansionist foreign policy during the Clinton and Bush administrations. While the Clinton administration underscored expansion of free-market economy under the banner of “Washington Consensus,” and eastward advancement of the NATO and EU, the Bush administration embarked on military interventionism to wage war on terrorism and decimate authoritarian regimes. The Obama administration endeavored to consolidate the LIO through enhancing international organizations and multilateralism, but at the same time, continued the previous administration’s military intervention by doubling the number of American troops in Afghanistan. President Trump, abandoning liberal values, disclosed a seemingly deviant foreign policy. But his foreign policy in fact was a reactionary resurgence of another face of the West that revolves around ethnonationalism, white supremacy, and civilizational superiority of the West.
The Biden administration’s liberal universalism underlines alliances and multilateralism, concentrates on curbing the “most serious competitor” China, and underscores “universal values” such as human rights and democracy in the dichotomous framework of “democracy vs. authoritarianism” as Biden defines the rivalry with China as the “struggle between the efficacy of the 21st-century democracy and dictatorship.” Biden’s approach is in clear contrast to Obama’s engagement approach to China, to Bush’s military interventionism, and to Trump’s unilateral transactional foreign policy. G. John Ikenberry succinctly explains Biden’s liberal value-based foreign policy, tracing its origins to the tradition of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s liberal internationalism. Biden’s strategy is firmly anchored on the belief that the prospects of effective resolution of peace, prosperity, and global issues are advanced with the spread of liberal democracy and capitalism. It aims to reverse the global rise of illiberal authoritarianism by deepening and modernizing liberal democracy. And on the foreign policy dimension in particular, Biden sets as America’s core mission to initiate the competition between world democracies and resurgent authoritarian countries like China and Russia. For this purpose, the Biden administration has endeavored to compose a “Big Tent” with liberal democratic countries that would involve the EU, NATO, Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, and countries joining the Indo-Pacific strategy.
Xi Jinping’s China has been explicating a Chinese identity that combines its traditional philosophical and political thoughts with socialism, which is anchored on civilizational state and tianxia(All under Heaven) discourse. China as a civilizational state underscores that it is a unique state in which “an axial civilization of over five-thousand history” is fused with a nation-state with historical continuity. In contrast, the tianxia theory casts light on Chinese principles of statecraft and worldview and assesses their applicability to today’s world politics. While civilizational state emphasizes China’s traditional historical and cultural peculiarities, tianxia underlines the universality of Chinese traditional views on the world and world politics.
The tianxia theory underscores in particular “a regime of culture and values” transcending races and geographical boundaries, and in this context, Xi’s China has been advocating ‘Community of Shared Future for Mankind.’ Mankind here implies collective, not individual, human beings engaging diversity in human societies, and is projected as a counter-thesis to American liberal universalism. China’s values diplomacy of today, based on Chinese peculiarities and values, is thus characterized as a struggle for recognition of its peculiarities, defying American liberal universalism. It is anchored on anti-liberalism, anti-Americanism, and anti-hegemonism, emphasizes the need for recognition of diversity, those values and systems different from liberal ones. In addition, Beijing pursues recognition of the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party’s rule and China’s status as a civilizational state and great power.
This is clearly demonstrated in a series of statements and texts expressed by high-ranking Chinese officials including Xi Jinping. Yang Jiechi, director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office of the CCP, in the Alaska meeting with Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan last March, for example, remarked that the U.S. does not represent global opinions and most countries in the world would not recognize the “universal” values and international order America advocates. Xi also made this point clear in his speech for the centennial of the CCP: “We will not, however, accept sanctimonious preaching from those who feel they have the right to lecture us. The Party and the Chinese people will keep moving confidently forward in broad strides along the path that we have chosen for ourselves, and we will make sure the destiny of China’s development and progress remains firmly in our own hands.” China’s values diplomacy reflects a dire threat perception on Western liberalism, whose promotion is seen as an instrument for the West to sustain its hegemony and as an existential threat to Beijing’s Communist Party regime. The so-called Document 9 lists up seven dangers threatening the Communist Party regime: the belief that the Western values centering on freedom, democracy and human rights are universal one to be applied to the entire mankind. Xi himself has repeatedly underscored the importance of struggle in the field of ideology as this is an issue of life and death to China. Beijing’s values diplomacy is well reflected in China’s foreign policy discourse in the Xi era as briefly summarized as four concepts as in [Table 2].
China’s values and views on international order clearly express resistant struggle against American liberal universalism, and Beijing endeavors to construct a ‘Big Tent’ by attracting and mobilizing partners and friends for its struggle for recognition. Its diplomatic practices are demonstrated in those realms of promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative, construction of global partnership networks, and cultivation of institutional power through multilateralism.
Ⅲ. Case: Vaccine Diplomacy of Washington and Beijing
Vaccine diplomacy is a case through which we could assess the values diplomacy of Washington and Beijing by looking into to what extent values advocated by each country are realized in practice through their role implementation. Vaccine diplomacy has two implications amidst the prevailing self-help and vaccine nationalism in the COVID-19 pandemic: Vaccine diplomacy could have soft power dividends as it could earn recognition in the form of appreciation and respect from the recipients as the provider plays the leadership role equivalent to its global status. The provision of vaccines, on the other hand, serves as a geopolitical instrument to expand a country’s sphere of influence.
As of February 2021, high-income countries accounting for 15% of the world population have acquired 56% of COVID-19 vaccine, prioritizing vaccination of their own people. By May, while China has globally supplied 250 million doses, or 42% of its domestic production, the U.S. 3 million doses, or a mere 1% of its domestic production, most of which were supplied to Canada and Mexico. Although Western countries including the U.S. began to embark on vaccine diplomacy by June, China has taken a clear lead until July. The U.S. in the March virtual Quad Summit took the initiative by pledging to supply one billion vaccine doses to the countries in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific by the end of 2022, under the division of labor in which the U.S. and Japan provide financial support for vaccine production, India produces, and Australia distribute. In June, Washington promised 80 million doses and when the G-7 countries pledged one billion doses in the June Summit, Biden announced that the U.S. would purchase additional 500 million doses from Pfizer to be distributed through the COVAX Facility. On July 28, U.S. Secretary of the State Antony Blinken promised 25 million dollars to India for its vaccine purchase.
As of early August, Washington has granted 111 million doses to over 60 countries and purchased additional 100 million doses of Pfizer vaccines for global distribution through the COVAX Facility as shown in [Figure 2]. This fulfills Biden’s pledge of 80 million doses made in June, with the American grant being more than the total sum of vaccines supplied by all other countries. Most of the supplies were made through the COVAX Facility and in cooperation with such regional organizations as African Union and Caribbean Community. In the September COVID-19 Summit convened by the U.S. at the time of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly, Biden promised additional donations of 5 billion doses for poor countries, making American pledge 1.1 billion doses including the 5 billion doses announced in the June G-7 Summit. But experts expect that only 300 million of these should be shipped this year. Washington has been taking collaborative initiatives in vaccine donations together with the Quad, G-7, and EU who share liberal values, as well as the COVAX Facility, but at the same time, makes it clear that it has no plan to supply vaccines to such dictatorial countries like Nicaragua.
[Source] White House Factsheet, August 3, 2021 at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/08/03/fact-sheet-president-biden-announces-major-milestone-in-administrations-global-vaccination-efforts-more-than-100-million-u-s-covid-19-vaccine-doses-donated-and-shipped-abroad/.
Washington is not free from international criticism of vaccine nationalism as the Biden administration maintains restrictions on the export of raw materials and related products for vaccine production adopted by the Trump administration under the Defense Production Act and has decided to give booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines to Americans. Washington’s granting of an exemption from the ban on the export of COVID-19 vaccine raw materials to India has also become a target of international criticism that Washington’s geopolitical calculation gives priority to India.
While the U.S. and European countries were scrambling to secure vaccines needed for domestic inoculation, China, having the domestic spread of COVID-19 under control, embarked on proactive vaccine diplomacy, acting as the sole vaccine supplier for developing countries. Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy already started at the end of 2021. In November last year, over a dozen middle- and low-income countries made contracts with Chinese vaccine companies and in December, Egypt became the first to receive Chinese vaccines. In 2020, China initiated its “mask diplomacy,” providing facial masks and PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment) to numerous countries across the world. As of May 2020, Beijing dispatched Chinese medical teams to 27 countries and provided equipment for preventing infectious diseases to 150 countries and 4 international organizations.
Beijing’s emphasis on ‘public goods’ and ‘Health Silk Road’ in its vaccine diplomacy is in tune with its foreign policy discourse. China narrates that developing countries are deprived of rapid access to vaccines as rich countries with their selfish nationalist behavior are hoarding and piling up vaccines at other countries’ expenses and that China contributes to equitable distribution of vaccines by supplying them to developing countries as “global public goods.” The idea of building a “Health Silk Road” was raised by Xi Jinping in 2017 when he visited the WHO in Geneva to conclude MOUs on building a Health Silk Road with those countries located along the BRI’s corridors. Beijing also convened an international forum on BRI health cooperation in August of the same year.
Xi pledged in the G-20 Summit in March 2020 that China would do its best to support those countries suffering from infectious diseases, and in his speech at the World Health Assembly on May 18, Xi said he considered Chinese vaccines as “global public goods” and underlined the need to construct a “community of health for mankind.” He also stated that the global distribution of vaccines is China’s vision of a “Shared Future for Mankind,” in which people around the world work together united. Since March 2020, Beijing has doubled down on its effort to project itself as a “responsible global health leader” through public diplomacy campaigns and declared when joining the COVAX Facility that China would provide vaccines as global public goods to developing countries.
Beijing underscores the importance of vaccine supplies to developing countries in the spirit of global South-South cooperation, but its actual supplies show the lowest amount of supply to Africa combining Chinese donations and commercial sales. Latin America is the second-largest in terms of Chinese vaccine supplies next to the Asia-Pacific, with sales of 61 million doses and donations of one million doses. Brazil is the largest purchaser of Chinese vaccines. The country has conducted three clinical trials for China’s Sinovac vaccine since October 2020 and produces Chinese vaccines. China’s overseas vaccine supplies as of early August 2021 are shown in [Figure 3] through [Figure 6].
[Source] Bridge Consulting, China COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, https://bridgebeijing.com/our-publications/our-publications-1/china-covid-19-vaccines-tracker/.
China also pledged to offer 10 million doses to the COVAX Facility. Most of its overseas supplies combining both commercial sales and donations are being made through bilateral rather than multilateral channels. Commercial sales take up almost 94% of its entire overseas supplies. For Latin American countries, Beijing provides loans for their purchase of Chinese vaccines.
[Source] Bridge Consulting, China COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, https://bridgebeijing.com/our-publications/our-publications-1/china-covid-19-vaccines-tracker/ .
According to a CCTV report on August 5 this year, Xi Jinping announced in a written message for a COVID-19 international forum for vaccine cooperation that Beijing would provide 2 billion doses of Chinese vaccines in 2021, as well as 200 million dollars for vaccine distribution through the COVAX Facility, although it is not clear whether the supplies are on a commercial or donation basis.
Chinese vaccine provision is being used as an instrument to secure its geopolitical influence over politically loyal countries, as it often comes with political and economic conditions and rewards attached. For example, Beijing provided vaccines for Cambodia and Laos for their support for China in the South China Sea disputes and for Pakistan for its approval of the BRI-related projects. In the case of donations, in particular, Beijing gives priority to those countries participating in the BRI. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that China is giving preferential access to its vaccines to those bridgehead states located along the BRI’s corridors. A Think Global Health report in June shows that 70 out of 72 countries that Beijing was to supply vaccines were countries participating in the BRI. Paraguay and Honduras complained that they were facing Beijing’s pressure to sever the diplomatic relationship with Taiwan in return for Chinese vaccines, while those countries that recently severed diplomatic relationship with Taiwan became the first recipients of Chinese vaccines. Brazil and the Dominican Republic are reported to have withdrawn their decisions to ban Huawei from their development of 5G networks for Chinese vaccines.
There are indeed growing concerns about the effectiveness, safety, transparency, and side effects of Chinese vaccines across the world. Chinese vaccines, however, have some advantages over the Western ones in terms of the speed and amount of supply, transportation, and preservation and storage amid an absolute shortage of vaccines worldwide. The fact that Chinese vaccines are a realistic alternative to the Western ones for developing countries brings some soft power dividends to Beijing. Research on Twitter and Instagram users outside of China during the period of July 2020 to March 2021 shows that vaccine-related perceptions on China were positive(69.7%). The same research on international English text outside of China also shows a similar outcome (71.3% positive).
Today’s international order is experiencing significant changes in both dimensions, material and sociocultural. In this context, values competition between the U.S. and China can be understood as contention between American liberal universalism and China’s defiant struggle for recognition. Both countries are in pursuit of international recognition of their status and power. The Biden administration upholds the universality of liberal values while China underlines the peculiarity, diversity, and sovereignty of states in its defiant struggle for recognition.
The Biden administration’s framing of world politics as a dichotomy between democracy and authoritarianism, however, could deepen the ongoing bloc-ization of values, or “collective beliefs.” Progressive democratic retreat since 2006 combined with the rise of authoritarianism and the crisis of the LIO, however, is due in no small part to domestic political polarization including the rise of far-right populism in Western liberal countries, which was in turn triggered by the global economic crisis in particular, and neoliberal globalization at large. It is one of the crucial aspects, by which today’s values bifurcation is different from the Cold War ideological confrontation. American retreat from, and the return of Taliban in, Afghanistan represents a grand failure of American liberal universalism aimed at regime change and state-building via military intervention. This attests again to the importance of the socio-cultural foundation of international politics.
Beijing’s values diplomacy is self-centered and nationalistic. Tianxia theory is essentially a discourse on Sinocentric universalism. Xu Jinlin, professor at East China Normal University, points out that China, despite its advocacy for “Community of Shared Future for Mankind,” has failed to generate universal values that could be shared by the entire mankind. He argues for a “new tianxia theory” aiming at constructing a new universalism, neither Sinocentric nor hierarchical. Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” implies a resurgence of the Chinese nation based on China’s selective historical memories or imagination. Beijing has been increasingly assertive on the issues related to self-defined “core interests,” despite its defiance of universalism and its advocacy for diversity and justice in the international society. When the U.S. and the West raise human rights issues in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, Beijing pushes back, labeling them as interventionists in China’s internal affairs. All this attests to the fact that China’s values are projected not so much as an alternative but as nationalistic resistance values. Besides the self-centeredness of Chinese values, the discrepancy between Beijing’s words and deeds in international affairs on the one hand, and between its domestic reality and foreign policy discourse on the other, would prevent it from securing “collective beliefs” and legitimate authority in such a way to make the distribution of values and norms favorable to it. This is one of the reasons China takes a “comprehensive engagement approach” to developing countries, combining hard power incentives, soft power resources, and sharp power.
While making donations through multilateral channels is a widespread practice in U.S. vaccine diplomacy, China supplies vaccines mostly on a commercial basis and through bilateral channels. While both countries give priority to the Asia-Pacific region, China is more likely to use vaccine supplies as a geopolitical instrument as it prefers bilateral to multilateral channels. American donations through multilateral initiatives like the Quad, G-7, and EU also represent collective actions of like-minded countries sharing common liberal values. When Vice President Kamala Harris pledged a million vaccine doses to Vietnam during her trip to Southeast Asian countries in August this year, Beijing promised two million doses to Hanoi in response.
For both countries, soft power dividends of vaccine diplomacy are limited, however. While Beijing is facing concerns about the efficacy of Chinese vaccines, as well as its hidden intentions behind vaccine supplies, Washington is faced with international criticism for stoking vaccine nationalism and vaccine inequality. The World Health Organization reported in September that of 5.7 billion doses administered globally, 73% went only to ten high-income countries including the U.S. It is also expected that high-income countries have administered 61 times more doses per inhabitant than low-income countries. The U.S.-China vaccine diplomacy has revealed the discrepancy between the values upheld by Washington and those advocated by Beijing, as well as between their actual practices of vaccine diplomacy. America’s vaccine diplomacy has been slower off the mark, and this could be seen as another sign of the country’s weakening global leadership. But Washington’s waning credentials do not mean Beijing could assume a global leadership role at the expense of the U.S. This suggests that non-great powers like South Korea should probe for new roles in a post-pandemic world that would not only mitigate the negative impacts of great power politics but also proactively supplement the global leadership of great powers.
Ever since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has maintained its foreign policy basis guided by liberal universalism with some variations depending on administrations, and the Biden administration appears to be no exception. The grand failure in Afghanistan is an outcome of the Bush administration’s military interventionism that could be compared to coercive assimilation seen from the perspective of a diversity regime. In his April remarks on American withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden underlined the importance of focusing on challenges from an increasingly assertive China. This again attests to the continuity of American foreign policy basis, on which Washington would maintain the same logic and strategy against China, if not resorting to military intervention, under the framework of democracy vs. authoritarianism. An exclusionary identity politics is likely to unfold in Sino-American relations, which will certainly be a diplomatic burden on South Korea.
In a “plural and pluralist” world of today, where diverse cultural norms and principles encounter and interact closely with each other, a precaution is needed against the fallacy of seeing today’s world through the cognitive lens of liberal universalism, or dichotomous confrontation based on universalism. An important question now is how to manage and govern diversity inclusively and peacefully through recognition of others who are different from us – namely, constructing a new diversity regime, under which we acknowledge and embrace heterogeneity and respond flexibly to diversity. The Biden administration’s ‘Big Tent’ approach may help China build a counter-liberalist tent, or an “Axis of Resistance,” gathering all those against the American liberalist approach that may include Islamic, as well as authoritarian, countries. This situation would portend an ominous future characterized by the conflict between the two civilizational states, prodding them into Huntingtonian “clash of civilizations.” Although many pundits argue that Sino-American relations can be compartmentalized into three areas, which are confrontation, competition, and cooperation, the prevailing confrontation between the two great powers would overwhelm the other two areas.
South Korea needs to get over the dichotomous perception that it should choose a side between the two contending great powers. Today’s value bloc-ization is not so much a matter of contention between two equivalent alternatives as a struggle between liberalism and resistant defiant values. It is not a question of choosing one over the other, and the dichotomous confrontational scheme itself is a social construct enacted through political motivations. Seoul needs to clarify parameters of cooperation with Washington within the framework of the ROK-U.S. alliance. Seoul has to be clear about what it is and is not prepared to do with Washington, as well as Beijing. Among others, South Korea needs to decouple the ROK-U.S. alliance from the dichotomous confrontational scheme. It would be desirable to develop the alliance into a platform to deepen bilateral cooperation on global issues such as health security and climate change, but there should be agreements between Seoul and Washington on detaching the alliance from Washington’s liberal universalist approach to China. In this context, multilateral approaches to military and non-military confidence-building measures (CBMs) on the Korean peninsula and in the Northeast Asian region are suggested to be set atop as the agendas of the ROK-U.S. alliance.
It is undeniable that the U.S.-China rivalry has great repercussions on the present and future of world politics. When considering the distribution of values and norms, or “collective beliefs,” as a pillar of international order, South Korea should endeavor to construct a buffer zone of values by explicitly laying down such middle-of-the-road values as “positive peace” and human security as its basic principles of foreign policy. For this purpose, Seoul should pursue forming multilateral coalitions together with like-minded and like-situated countries, as well as non-state actors. South Korea needs to conduct normative diplomacy to generate shared meanings and understanding with others on important global and regional issues. South Korea’s initiatives in the field of global health security, such as the Northeast Asia Cooperation for Health Security (HEACHS) and the UN Group of Friends of Solidarity for Global Health Security, should be further developed to generate and consolidate international norms in the relevant issue areas.
Treading a fine line between Washington’s expectation that Seoul play a more proactive role in its China approach and Beijing’s expectation that Seoul remain neutral without leaning towards the U.S., South Korea should make clear its middle-of-the-road position that defies conflicts and disputes caused by great power competition. But at the same time, it also needs to make clear that its position is not about passively staying equidistant from Washington and Beijing, but about upholding a proactive middle-of-the-road position by spelling out its opposition against China’s assertive unilateral behavior which disrupts the stability of international and regional order. South Korea should play the role of an intersection state that collaborates with both the U.S. and China on those global issues and policies that are compatible and corresponding with its middle-of-the-road principles.
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