South Korea Discussed Potential Participation in AUKUS Pillar 2

During a “2 plus 2” meeting held in Melbourne, foreign and defense chiefs from South Korea and Australia discussed South Korea’s possible participation in the AUKUS partnership on Wednesday, May 1st.

During a joint press conference after the 2 plus 2 meetings, South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik said, “During today’s meeting, we discussed the possibility of partnering with the AUKUS Pillar 2.” Shin added that South Korea’s scientific and technological advances will contribute to peace, stability, and regional and global peace.

South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul speaks right after a meeting with the foreign and defense ministers of South Korea and Australia. Source: Australia MOFA

During the same press conference, the South China Sea and the East China Sea were brought up, along with maintaining peace and stability in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The ministers also agreed to further look into collaborating with Japan, referring to other “like-minded nations” in the Indo-Pacific region.

AUKUS Partnership 

The Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) trilateral relationship began in September 2021 to aid Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines. This development came after a similar deal with France fell through. Another reason was to counter Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region and maintain global stability.

The partnership was founded on two pillars: Pillar 1 and Pillar 2. Pillar 1 focused on supplying nuclear-powered, conventionally armed submarine technology for Australia to be manufactured locally at the earliest possible date. The new submarine class was named SSN-AUKUS in March 2023, after Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The submarine was originally named Submersible Ship Nuclear Replacement (SSNR). 

Rendering of an AUKUS class submarine. Source: BAE systems

AUKUS also focuses on military capabilities, and jointly developing and sharing technology allows for advancements in security and defense, which is a bigger focus with Pillar 2. 

AUKUS Pillar 2

AUKUS Pillar 2 will focus on advanced technologies to boost defense and security capabilities, including advancements in AI, underwater capabilities, cyber mechanisms, electronic warfare, missile defense systems, and better information-sharing programs. 

Pillar 2 also promises further interoperability, opening the door to the participation of other U.S.-allied nations, such as South Korea, Japan, and New Zealand.

Analysis 

South Korea’s possible participation in Pillar 2 could significantly benefit AUKUS, as South Korea has been an innovator for nearly two decades in fields such as science, and technology, particularly in electronics, automobiles, and telecommunications. South Korea is a major defense manufacturer, with projects in progress, such as the KF-21 joint fighter project. 

Similar to South Korea’s possible involvement, Japan could possibly be brought in as well. Pillar 2 could serve as an opportunity for South Korea and Japan to further their relations.  However, Japan’s colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula still cause considerable strain on the relationship of the two countries.

Participating in AUKUS Pillar 2 could impact South Korea’s relations with China, as AUKUS counters Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region. South Korea’s relationship with China could be considered poor; however, it may be impacted since AUKUS was created to specifically counter China and their interests within the Indo-Pacific region.

China has also criticized AUKUS, with one example being concerns over providing nuclear technology to Australia, a non-nuclear state, which brings up concerns of nuclear proliferation. 

Similarly, to counter Chinese aggressiveness in the Indo-Pacific, AUKUS also addresses North Korean threats and could deter their missile development. Since South Korea’s participation in AUKUS Pillar 2 could strain the tense relations between South Korea and North Korea, the nation views AUKUS negatively, accusing it in 2021 of trying to “start a nuclear arms race.” 

Since Pillar 2 is meant to foster interoperability, if more major nations within the Indo-Pacific join, such as India or the Philippines,. This could prove more worrisome for China and North Korea due to the crackdown on North Korean sanction violations pertaining to their missile programs and diminishing Chinese ambitions in the Indo-Pacific.

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