The Geopolitical Perceptions of Kim Ku and Syngman Rhee: Focusing on the Period of Japanese Occupation

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Kim, Myongsob; Kim, Seok Won
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Center for Social Sciences, Seoul National University
Korean Social Sciences Review(KSSR) Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 105-142
Kim KuSyngman Rheegeopolitical perceptiongeopoliticsTaehanChegukthe Great Han EmpireTaehanMingukthe Republic of Korea김구이승만대한제국대한민국
Translated from the published article in Korean Political Science Review 43(3): 51-75,
2009 with permission from the The Korean Political Science Association.
This paper compares the geopolitical perceptions of Syngman Rhee (Yi Sŭngman) and
Kim Ku. The major findings are as follows. First, during the period of the Taehan Empire,
Rhee and Kim had cast off their old Sino-centric geopolitical perceptions and embraced the
concept of sovereignty. Protestantism, which was crucial to the rise of the modern conception
of sovereignty, certainly played a role in the establishment of Rhee and Kim’s perceptions.
Second, during the period in which the Korean Provisional Government experienced internal
conflicts over whether to partner with the Russian Communists, Kim and Rhee were both
wary of the expansion of Soviet influence. Third, during the Asia-Pacific War, Rhee and Kim
advocated a united front with China (Asia) and the U.S. (Pacific) against Japan’s geopolitical
scheme of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Fourth, Rhee focused on the strength
and value of the U.S., which was expanding into the Pacific, and relegated China to the
role of a secondary collaborator. In contrast, Kim valued highly the symbiotic relationship
with China. Fifth, Rhee had a keen understanding of the global milieu but his senses were
relatively dull to the revolutionary atmosphere of the Eurasian continent including Asia. On
the other hand, Kim’s perception of the world was relatively narrow but he was more sensitive
to the revolutionary atmosphere of the Eurasian continent. Sixth, as the Cold War escalated
and the two camps jockeyed to keep the Korean Peninsula within their respective spheres of
influence (in traditional geopolitical terms, continental versus maritime), the differences in
two men’s geopolitical perceptions began to take center stage rather than their similarities.
Despite these differences, the similar geopolitical perceptions shared by these two men, who
contributed to the independence and founding of Korea, can provide a cornerstone for the
geopolitical strategy of a 21st century Korea working to balance its continental and maritime
priorities and continuing to face the problem of the North-South division.
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College of Social Sciences (사회과학대학)Center for Social Sciences (사회과학연구원)Korean Social Sciences Review (KSSR)Korean Social Sciences Review (KSSR) Vol.01, No.01 (2011)
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