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Outlook for S. Korea's diplomacy in 2020
Updated: 2020-01-07 16:08:04 KST
In a matter of days, South Korea and the U.S. will be back at the negotiating table to discuss sharing the cost of stationing American troops on the Korean Peninsula.
Despite five rounds of talks in 2019, the allies failed to reach an agreement before their previous deal expired on December 31st.
Although Washington says it has adjusted its proposal, it had initially demanded Seoul pay a five fold hike of five billion U.S dollars.
South Korea says the figure must be fair and mutually acceptable.

"If a new deal isn't reached by February, it could lead to wages not being paid to South Koreans working for U.S. Forces Korea and money for other forms of support could be cut off. It's something we've never experienced before, so the implications need to be carefully thought out."

With Japan although South Korea has fostered momentum for talks, sticky issues still need to be settled.
Seoul decided to conditionally extend their joint military intel-sharing pact GSOMIA, with Tokyo agreeing to hold talks on its export controls but either side could back out if they don't see the progress they want.
Other issues are also in store such as Japan's proposal to release radioactive water into the sea and to allow the controversial rising sun flag at the Tokyo Olympics.
Tensions could further escalate if South Korea goes ahead and sells off assets seized from Japanese companies following a ruling on forced labor in 2018.

"If the fallout on Japanese firms becomes apparent, Tokyo could decide to take measures to hurt the South Korean economy which could lead to another economic war."

As for China, there's hope that bilateral relations could be restored, with President Xi Jinping likely to visit this year.
Tensions peaked after Beijing's economic retaliation against South Korea for its deployment of a U.S. missile defense system in 2016.
But China could also step up pressure on Seoul against any move that would beef up U.S. influence in the region.
On the Korean Peninsula, Seoul is expected to continue reaching out to the North, despite the lack of progress in denuclearization talks between Pyeongyang and Washington.
South Korea will likely step up behind the scenes diplomacy in hopes of pursuing initiatives of its own, such as a possible visit by the North Korean leader to Seoul.

"Amid the standoff, South Korea will need to make sure the momentum for North Korea-U.S. dialogue doesn't break down, while maintaining stability on the peninsula. On other issues, Seoul is expected to better deal with the situation in the new year, as we saw the height of tensions in 2019. With Japan, the two sides know that it's in each other's interest to prevent ties from worsening, and with the Olympics coming, Tokyo will want to manage its external relations. Likewise, Seoul and Washington know what's beneficial for their alliance."

Pundits add that as lots of issues are intertwined, policies will need to be tailored to the country and the matter, and drawn up based on South Korea's experiences last year so that it doesn't go down the same path again.
Kim Min-ji, Arirang News
Reporter : kimmj@arirang.com