An over-baked soufflé? South Korea's Indo-Pacific Strategy

South Korea’s Indo-Pacific (IndoPac) Strategy will be released soon.

We already know the basics. On 11 November 2022 at the 23rd ASEAN-Republic of Korea (ROK) Summit in Phnom Penh, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol outlined the administration’s IndoPac strategy. There’s been a few good reviews. In an early piece, Song Kyung-jin at the Institute for Global Economics (IGE) looked at expectations for the strategy. Clint Work at the Korea Economic Institute did a great piece looking at the underlying tensions. More recently, Wongi Choe at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS) looked at strategic implications from a government perspective. He noted the strategy’s central features:

Choe also highlighted how these features will impact South Korea’s foreign policy and the challenges ahead, noting that “China is highly likely to perceive Seoul’s new initiative as a strategic tilt towards Washington”; Seoul’s currently far behind on regional issues; and working with ASEAN on “value-laden diplomacy” and China/U.S. and issues will not be easy.

I’m going to be a tad more critical because (1) I don’t work for the government, and (2) as a result of covid measures, the government hasn’t thrown any of those cheap wine and pizza dinners for foreign academics where they explain policy and ask you not to be too critical (you know what I mean Seoulites). So, here goes…

South Korea’s IndoPac Strategy is an overheated soufflé. It looks great from a distance, but when you open the door to look closer, it collapses in a sugary mess!

For consistency, I’ll continue the soufflé analogy and look at the ingredients, preparation and presentation.

The soufflé analogy for South Korea’s foreign policy works with just about every new administration. Think about it, nearly every foreign policy strategy looks great in the first and second year of an administration until it starts to collapse: Green Growth, North Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative (NAPCI), and the New Southern Policy. They’re all just rhetorical incarnations of a much broader and steadier long-term trend (which I’ll discuss in a future piece). The IndoPac Strategy will be no different.

My opinions are formed from interacting with those at the coalface. Those that maneuver and shuffle to get the support of presidential advisors and perhaps lead components of a grand presidential foreign policy strategy. Then as it becomes steadily clearer that being involved will leave a stain that will be seen by the next presidential administration, they maneuver and shuffle just as fast to get out. That’s the point in time when the soufflé really collapses.

So, get ready for a belly full of rhetoric and a gamut of domestic and foreign opinion pieces supporting it. The IndoPac Strategy will dazzle everyone for two years or so, and then it will quietly deflate until it collapses, as occurs with all the other grand presidential foreign policy strategies. The long-term trend of fence-sitting will continue.

Media: Wikimedia Commons

South Korea, Indo-Pacific Strategy, Security, Strategic, Foreign Policy