Yellen’s anti-China rhetoric won’t be enough in Seoul

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks at LG Science Park in Seoul, Republic of Korea (ROK), July 19, 2022. /CFP

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks at LG Science Park in Seoul, Republic of Korea (ROK), July 19, 2022. /CFP

Editor’s note: Hannan Hussain is a foreign affairs commentator and author. He is a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Maryland and a former Adjunct Research Fellow at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute. The article reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

In her prepared speech ahead of a Tuesday meeting with Republic of Korea (ROK) President Yoon Suk-yeol, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen accused China of allegedly unfair trade practices and claimed that the China was using its position in the market to exert “undesirable geopolitical leverage”. His speech also ties these groundless allegations to Washington’s distorted sense of “national security interests.” But anti-China rhetoric is highly unlikely to translate into Yellen’s economic and trade court in Seoul, as well as through the wider network of “trusted” US partners.

First, the very idea of ​​distancing Seoul from Beijing, and deepening US trade ties in the process, is pure fantasy. Beijing has been Seoul’s biggest trading partner since 2014, an experience enriched by multi-sectoral cooperation and their historic free trade agreement. Thus, playing lies about disrupting the Chinese market will not benefit US trade credibility with Seoul, nor can it help lay the groundwork for selective market engagement with China.

On real market concerns, it is America that continues to campaign for industrial policies that are favorable to it. Washington’s narrative of open markets makes no mention of US commitments to tariffs, trade barriers and sanctions, despite the costs of some of these measures backfiring on its own citizens. Yellen’s drive to engage more with “trusted” business partners also ignores key regional realities.

This includes the fact that America is on the fringes of major Southeast Asian multilateral trade agreements and supports an economic integration framework focused on geopolitics, not economic integration. Washington’s pursuit of Asian economic membership is also limited by its reluctance to coexist with all countries in the region, including Seoul’s biggest trading partner. And despite these glaring realities, Yellen believes more anti-China trade rhetoric will make US leadership credible in Seoul.

The 2022 International Forum for Trilateral Cooperation between China, Japan and the ROK is held in Seoul, ROK, June 14, 2022. /Xinhua

The 2022 International Forum for Trilateral Cooperation between China, Japan and the ROK is held in Seoul, ROK, June 14, 2022. /Xinhua

“We cannot allow countries like China to use their market position in key commodities, technologies, or products to disrupt our economy or exert unwanted geopolitical leverage,” Yellen said during an interview. a speech at a research and development complex run by LG Group in Seoul.

When it comes to commodities, Yellen’s deliberately opposes Beijing’s admirable success in nurturing national competitiveness and creating a sense of self-sufficiency that no amount of American bashing can undo. There is no credible evidence to back up the fiction that China’s raw materials and technological prowess equates to economic disruption. As a result, Yellen’s toxic allegations bring with them echoes of Cold War containment, ill-suited to a region that cherishes the values ​​of inclusion, peace and development, and a China-DRC trade partnership built on respect. mutual.

Similar weaknesses accompany Yellen’s proposal to diversify supply chains with “trusted” partners, using “national security” as a cover. Consider how the proposal – presented as “ami-shoring” – is less about jointly reducing economic risks in the region, and more about playing up the fiction of “unfair Chinese practices” and their supposed harm to national security interests. If there was any question about the use of the markets by the United States – and not by China – as “undesirable geopolitical leverage”, Yellen’s words remove all doubt.

Understand that markets respond to innovation, not coercion. Beijing’s plea for an inclusive market system is echoed by many in Asia. This position remains essential to prevent the politicization of the same system to serve particular ideological prejudices. It is here that Yellen’s anti-China message suggests the opposite of what she hopes to accomplish in Seoul: to protect countries from threats and the manipulation of geopolitical rivalries. “Resilient supply chains mean diversity of sources of supply and eliminates wherever possible the possibility that geopolitical rivals can manipulate us and threaten our security,” she said in a recent interview.

This tale won’t stand up to a day’s scrutiny. Yellen’s push to elevate trade relations between the ROK and the United States is driven by the assumption that there will be an anti-China buy-in from Seoul, making it certain that the dangers of geopolitical rivalry stem of those who voluntarily approve of it.

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