South Korea plans to dispatch an advanced warship to the Strait of Hormuz as early as August in response to a U.S.’ request to join a Washington-led maritime security initiative in the Gulf region, according to sources familiar with the issue.
Seoul is planning to send its Cheonghae Unit to the region. The South Korean Navy vessel is currently conducting anti-piracy operations in waters of Somalia, near the Strait. It has escorted hundreds of South Korean and international vessels in and around the Gulf of Aden since 2009.
“South Korea would send the Cheonghae unit to the Strait as the U.S. is seeking to enlist other allies for a coalition to operate in waters off Iran and Yemen to increase the safety of commercial shipping and prevent possible attacks that could harm oil supplies,” one source said.
Seoul has yet to confirm the specifics over the plan, such as its timeline, but expressed optimism during U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s two-day trip to South Korea from Tuesday. Seoul has participated in previous U.S.-led coalition operations because it has long relied on U.S. forces for deterrence against North Korea.
“Let me thank you for your leadership in regions where there are challenges and where tension is rising, especially in the Strait of Hormuz. I think your leadership in trying to keep things stable there has been very much appreciated,” Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said in a meeting with U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, Wednesday.
Washington plans to form a coalition of military allies in the region to safeguard the Persian Gulf amid security threats from Iran-aligned fighters. Threats and disruption to commercial shipping could trigger economic damage in the form of crude oil supply concerns.
Following Bolton’s visit to Seoul and a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong, chief of the presidential National Security Office, Cheong Wa Dae expressed willingness to join security alliances in the region.
“Both sides reached a consensus on the need for international efforts to guarantee the safe sailing of private merchant ships, and agreed to continue negotiating partnerships for maritime security and freedom of sailing on the Strait,” presidential spokeswoman Ko Min-jung said.
South Korea’s move is interpreted as part of a response to a recent security threat from Russia and China.
On the same day as Bolton’s arrival in Seoul, Russian and Chinese bombers entered the Korea Air Defense Identification Zone (KADIZ) near the South’s easternmost islets of Dokdo, in a joint military drill. Some observers said the move was intentional and aimed at displaying the two countries’ discontent over Washington’s Indo-Pacific drive.
The provocation is also seen as a warning message from Beijing and Moscow that Seoul should not join the Washington-led Hormuz initiative. But by siding with the Hormuz initiative, Seoul is also known to have received Washington’s “unofficial support” in facilitating the deepening trade row with Tokyo.
According to the foreign ministry, Washington pledged to play a “facilitating role” in mediating the trade row between its Asian allies during the meeting between Kang and Bolton.
Seoul’s plan to join the Hormuz drive also raises concerns here that the move could pose a negative impact on local industries, as Iran or pro-Iranian countries may tighten restrictions on exports of oil against those who participate in the Washington-led plan.