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Seoul mulls joining AUKUS as Beijing protests! This is an original article from VOA NEWS!

South Korea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Tae-yul, left, and South Korea’s National Defense Minister Shin Won-sik sit during an Australia and South Korea Foreign and Defense Ministers meeting in Melbourne, Australia, May 1, 2024.

WASHINGTON — Seoul is mulling over sharing advanced military technology with the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia through what is known as AUKUS Pillar II, a move that would enhance its security capabilities at the risk of angering its powerful neighbor, China.

AUKUS is a trilateral security partnership formed among Australia, the U.K. and U.S. in 2021 to push back against China’s growing aggression in the Indo-Pacific.

The Pillar II of AUKUS aims to deliver and share advanced military technology among its partners, including hypersonic, artificial intelligence (AI) and cyber technology. Its Pillar I is designed to deliver nuclear-powered attack submarines to Australia.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, objected to the arrangement, telling VOA’s Korean Service on Monday, “Despite being called a ‘trilateral security partnership,’ AUKUS is essentially about fueling military confrontation through military collaboration.”

“It creates additional nuclear proliferation risks, exacerbates the arms race in the Asia-Pacific and hurts regional peace and stability. China is deeply concerned and firmly opposed to it,” Pengyu said. He made the comments without naming South Korea.

Seoul has not been admitted officially to AUKUS but talks about South Korea’s inclusion in Pillar II were held between Seoul and Canberra earlier this month.

On May 1, after a meeting with Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles in Melbourne, South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik told reporters that he had discussed with his Australian counterparts the possibility of joining AUKUS Pillar II.

A U.S. Defense Department spokesperson told VOA’s Korean Service on May 2 that “AUKUS partners have developed principles and models for additional partner engagement.”

The spokesperson added that the U.S. “will undertake consultations in 2024 with prospective partners regarding areas where they can contribute to and benefit from this historic work.”

Talks about bringing Japan into Pillar II are even more advanced.

Washington announced during a U.S.-Japan summit on April 10 that the three AUKUS partners are “considering cooperation with Japan on AUKUS Pillar II advanced capability projects.”

A day after talks with the South Korean defense minister, Marles met with the Japanese Defense Minister Kihara Minoru and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Hawaii where they reaffirmed their consideration for Japan’s involvement in Pillar II.

A spokesperson for the British Defense Ministry told VOA’s Korean Service on May 2 that the U.K. “will continue to seek opportunities to engage allies and close partners as work on AUKUS Pillar 2 progresses, however, no decisions have been made on which countries, beyond Japan, we could collaborate with.”

The spokesperson said any decisions on bringing other states into the arrangement would be announced at an appropriate time.

Terence Roehrig, a professor of national security and Korea expert at the U.S. Naval War College, said, “There is a strong possibility that South Korea will join AUKUS Pillar II” as it “has a solid reputation in developing advanced technologies” such as “semiconductors, AI, hypersonic, robotic, and unmanned systems.”

Roehrig continued, “No doubt, Beijing will protest Seoul’s inclusion,” but “South Korea has much to gain from joining AUKUS, and if managed carefully, can reduce the risk of any major Chinese response.”

Melanie Hart, the China policy coordinator for Undersecretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Jose Fernandez at the State Department, said the U.S. will do all it can to help South Korea if it is faced with a Chinese economic retaliation. She made the remark in an interview with South Korean media Yonhap earlier in the month.

David Maxwell, vice president of the Center for Asia Pacific Strategy, said Seoul’s involvement in AUKUS fits into South Korea’s goal of becoming a global pivotal state and its alignment with countries supporting a rules-based international order.

He said Beijing would expose “its own weakness and malign activities if it chooses to attack South Korea” economically and that Seoul should not base its decision on how China might respond.

Michael O’Hanlon, director of research in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, agreed that Seoul would be a good fit for AUKUS. But, he said, “South Korea must have its main eye on North Korea” whereas AUKUS is focused on China.

Therefore, he continued, “There are limitations to what could likely be expected in any tightening of the collaboration.”

An involvement in AUKUS would entail “significant cost-sharing,” said James Przystup, senior fellow at Hudson Institute and Japan chair specializing alliance management in the Indo-Pacific. But both Seoul and Tokyo joining the Pillar II “is an idea whose time has come.”

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