Enemy, Homager or Equal Partner?: Evolving Korea-China Relations

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Kim, Heungkyu
Issue Date
Institute of International Affairs, Graduate School of International Studies, Seoul National University
Journal of International and Area Studies, Vol.19 No.2, pp. 47-62
Korea-China RelationsStrategic Cooperative PartnershipNorth Koreathe U.S.- China RelationsStrategic Thinking
Since the formal establishment of South Korea (hereafter, Korea)-the People’s Republic of China

(hereafter, China) relations in 1992, the bilateral relationship has recorded tremendous success in

terms of trade volume, cooperation on the North Korean nuclear crisis, and the magnitude of

exchanges in various areas. However, it is also true that the bilateral relations still remain far from

satisfaction in terms of depth and degree of communication, crisis management, and a shared vision.

Given Korean’s psychological alertness and apprehension formed over a long history of contacts with

China, differences in political system, mutual misperceptions, and degree of understanding, these

problems cast serious challenges for future relations between the two countries. In the future, Korea-

China relations could be sour and bumpy if the Korean government relies excessively on securityoriented

approaches, centering on its alliance with the U.S.

Korea needs to exercise a “creative middle power-pragmatic diplomacy” in dealing with China.

The objective is to establish a positive-sum game in the Korea-China strategic cooperative partnership,

extending consultation and cooperation beyond security issues on the Korean Peninsula. Both the

Korea-U.S. alliance and the Korea-China strategic cooperative partnership should be the foundation

of Korea’s diplomatic assets, under which Korea would try to persuade North Korea to abandon its

nuclear program.

The substance of Korea-China relations will be determined by the policies of each government to

consolidate the “cooperative strategic partnership.” Sound communication, political will, and

strategic management matter. The future relationship of Korea with China is at the crossroad among

the ranges of being enemy, homager, or equal partner. Korea obviously favors the establishment of an

equal partnership with China, based upon the common principles of mutual respect, cooperation, and

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Graduate School of International Studies (국제대학원)Dept. of International Studies (국제학과)Journal of International and Area StudiesJournal of International and Area Studies vol.19 (2012)
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