ROK should think twice before going all in with US

Republic of Korea President Yoon Suk-yeol said in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday that the ROK may provide weapons to Ukraine, after last year ruling out the possibility of providing lethal aid to the country.

The ROK, a growing arms exporter, has a policy of not supplying weapons to countries at war. It has not provided arms to Ukraine, although it has shipped humanitarian aid and joined the US-led economic sanctions against Russia.

Despite mounting pressure from Western countries for it to supply weapons to Ukraine, the ROK, a key ally of the United States and major producer of artillery ammunition, has so far tried to avoid antagonizing Russia due to its companies operating there and Moscow's friendly ties with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The ROK has been long weighing the pros and cons of extending military aid to Ukraine.

Why did ROK President Yoon suggest a major shift in its national policy on arms exports at this time? The timing is everything. It came just days before his visit to the US next week for a summit with US President Joe Biden.

What President Yoon said on this question is not so much publicizing the ROK's policy shift as letting his US counterpart Joe Biden know that the ROK might consider providing ammunition to Ukraine if it gets something substantial in return as an outcome of the coming summit between the two leaders.

US intelligence documents which were leaked days ago indicated that Washington was spying on the ROK, which has put the ROK president in a difficult situation and made his visit to the US very delicate. It is important for Yoon to get something substantial from his meeting with his US counterpart to show to the opposition party that the eavesdropping by the US is not ill-intended and will not cause damage to bilateral relations.

However, it is important for the ROK to know where and when to toe the line in its relations with the US. To directly provide military aid to Ukraine would tell the world that the ROK does this under the pressure of the US and it has lost its foreign policy independence. That the US spies on the ROK and its other allies only proves that Washington wants leverage over them.

Considering the concessions the ROK made to Japan on the compensation of slave labor and other historical issues and the possibility of it providing direct military aid for Ukraine, it is not difficult to conclude that the ROK is ready to jump on the bandwagon of the US' geopolitical game.

This will do no good to the interests of the ROK and neither is it conducive to regional peace and development. The ROK needs to err on the side of caution in its ties with the US.