South Korea, Australia forge closer military ties

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is in Australia on a four-day visit—the first in-person trip to Australia by a head of state since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the visit nominally marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations, it is a significant boost to strategic and economic ties between the two countries.

With Washington aggressively ramping up tensions with Beijing, both Australia and South Korea are formal military allies of the United States and host US military bases. South Korea houses some 28,500 American military personnel and is integrated into US anti-missile systems aimed against China. The US has basing arrangements for US Marines, warplanes and warships in Australia, which also hosts critical facilities, such as the Pine Gap base in central Australia, that are essential to US military operations throughout Asia and the Middle East.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, center, lays a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier during a visit to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Australia on Monday, December 13, 2021. (Lukas Coch/Pool Photo via AP)

Together with the US, Japan and India, Australia is a member of the quasi-military alliance known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or “Quad,” which the Biden administration has strengthened this year. In addition, the AUKUS pact signed earlier this year with the US and the UK includes the provision of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.

South Korea is not part of the Quad or AUKUS, but would quickly be involved in any US war against China. Moon declared that his visit had “nothing to do with our position over China,” yet the strengthening of strategic ties with Australia inevitably draws South Korea more closely into the web of US military alliances and strategic partnerships in Asia developed by Washington in preparation for conflict with China.

Moon met with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday and formally elevated ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. While the South Korean president was careful not to raise tensions with China, his country’s largest trading partner, he did signal support for AUKUS—which is unmistakeably aimed against Beijing.

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