Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sigur Center Grant for Field Research Summer 2012: Asia Center at Seoul National University

The term, Quasi-Alliance, is often used to describe the relationship between South Korea and Japan. Victor Cha, an expert on Asian security and a professor at Georgetown University, has emphasized the role of the United States in bridging the two countries in his book, Alliance despite Antagonism.

Indeed, today's Korean politics appears to prove that there are no better words to describe the two countries' relationship than antagonism and alliance, considering the heated debate both between the Left (Tonghap-Minju Party) and the Right (Saenuri Party) and between the Lee Myongbak government and the Opposition party. Though admitting their procedural fault in not consulting with the National Assembly before announcing the military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, the government and the governing party stress the importance of elevating military relations with Japan to the level of sharing important information regarding regional military changes. They say North Korea threat would be a primary target of the military pact with Japan, which has not been inked yet.

On the other hand, the Opposition party and some progressive newspapers argue against the signing of the pact. First, they say that the people's deep resentment toward Japan because of its brutal colonial rule between 1910 and 1945 should be solved prior to the signing of the military pact with Japan. Second, signing the pact with Japan is the same as joining the US's strategic encirclement of China, which would seriously harm South Korea's economic interests.

Though both sides sound plausible, the argument of the Opposition party that economic interests should be prioritized in strengthening the alliance with the US and Japan begs me the question: Will economic ties with China be hurt when South Korea beefs up its alliance with the US and Japan? If so, how so?

This untested conjecture that strengthening economic ties with the US and Japan would harm the South's economic interests in maintaining economic relations with China has been dragging Seoul's feet in managing its security cooperation with the US and Japan. Although I have been doing research on this topic and writing my dissertation on effects of economic ties on South Korea'a alignment strategies toward China, the answer doesn't seem as apparent as some politicians say.

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