The Group of Seven (G7) Summit, a gathering of countries that share the values of freedom and democracy, was held in Hiroshima, Japan, from May 19 to 21. This year’s G7 was chaired by Japan, and Korea was invited to participate as an observer. This is the fourth time South Korea has attended the G7, including the one in Cornwall, England, in 2021. President Yoon’s attendance was especially significant for the ruling party, which has been closely engaged with the United States and Japan since taking power. “South Korea has become a psychological G8 country,” said Kim Tae-hyo, first deputy director of the National Security Office, or “I felt that our President Yun Suk-yeol’s international popularity is quite good.”
Aside from the fact that the U.S. has “lined up” behind South Korea’s claim to be a “de facto” G8 member, the debate over G7 membership illustrates the dynamics of international politics. The G7 seemed to lose importance with the rise of the Group of 20 (G20), which includes China, Russia, and others. While the G7 was an ideological and value-based group representing the democratic camp in the international community, the G20, which was launched for the purpose of resolving the global financial crisis, was relatively de-ideologized and economic. The international community, which was united around the G20, seems to be returning to the center of the G7, which excludes China and Russia. This proves that the international community is becoming clearer in terms of ‘democracy vs. anti-democracy’. However, neither the G7 nor the G20 is a grouping of countries in order of power as it is known in Korea. There are no clear criteria for membership either. Even if South Korea is a member of the G8 in spirit, it does not mean that it is recognized as the eighth largest country in the world.
President Yoon Seok-yeol has been traveling closely with the United States and Japan since taking office. This is why there is a difference between Yoon’s and former President Moon Jae-in’s attendance at the same G7. At least on the surface, Yoon’s call for “freedom” is being heard. President Yoon himself said, “I realized that the international community’s view of South Korea has changed through the G7 Summit,” reinforcing his “freedom” foreign policy. The question is, does the international community really see the world in terms of democracy versus anti-democracy, freedom versus non-freedom, as the South Korean government sees it?
The G7, which touts like-mindedness in terms of values and policies, has a long-standing problem. It is ‘unity’. It is pointed out that within the G7, there is a division between “major countries” (US, UK, France, Germany) and “other countries” (Japan, Canada, Italy). Recently, it has been pointed out that there has been a gap in leadership for capacity building. In particular, the US-China strategic competition has been in full swing, and nuanced differences in national interests have emerged. We are faced with the fundamental issue of whether ‘taking sides’ based on values can outweigh ‘livelihood issues’. In particular, at this year’s G7, there is a peculiar change in addition to the mechanically mentioned “check on the masses” in multilateral diplomacy centered on Western society. The first is the emergence of the unfamiliar term “de-risking” (de-risking).
Is de-risking a check or cooperation?
South Korean President Yoon Seok-yul talks with U.S먹튀검증. President Joe Biden during a dinner for the Group of Seven (G7) summit at the Grand Prince Hotel in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 20. / Yonhap
De-risking became known on March 30 when European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen mentioned it in a speech on the Great Power Policy. In international politics, the establishment of hostile relations is characterized as “isolation,” also known as decoupling. It is analogous to the confrontation between the United States, which sought to maintain its hegemony during the Cold War, and Russia, which sought to surpass it. Unlike decoupling, which has a clear definition and precedent, de-risking in international politics does not yet have a clear definition or precedent. However, it is a way of saying, “We will reduce our economic dependence, and therefore the risks that come with it. Our relationships are not black and white, and (therefore) our responses cannot be black and white,” Von der Leyen said. Add to that White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s interpretation that “de-risking is fundamentally about ensuring that we have resilient and efficient supply chains that are not subject to coercion by any country,” and the picture becomes clearer.
Despite the lack of specifics on how the new strategy will be implemented, de-risking made its way into the G7 communiqué more than three months after its public debut. “We stand ready to build a constructive and stable relationship with China,” the communique, released on May 20, read. “We’re not trying to decouple from China, we’re trying to de-risk and diversify our relationship with China,” Biden said at a press conference after the G7.
When the strategic posture of the leading players in the international order shifts dramatically, those who must follow suffer. This starts with the contradictions in the U.S. definition of de-risking and its behavior. A case in point is the “semiconductor” issue. In October of last year, the United States imposed a ban on the export of advanced semiconductor equipment to China. In particular, the U.S. Semiconductor Act limits subsidized companies to no more than 5% of their advanced semiconductor production in China over the next 10 years. South Korean companies such as Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix have been granted temporary permission to expand their production lines in China for one year. The call for restraint on exports of key products comes at a time when the government’s security strategy is set to deepen dependence on the United States. In response to criticisms of contradictions, the U.S. has said that it is “de-risking except for high-tech industries such as semiconductors.
South Korea’s dilemma extends to concrete examples. On May 21, shortly after the G7, China sanctioned products from Micron, the largest US memory semiconductor company. It cited serious security issues that threatened “national security. Mike Gallagher, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Special Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Communist Party of China (China Task Force), issued a statement saying, “We must ensure that U.S. export licenses for memory semiconductor companies operating in China are not used to fill the gap left by Micron.”