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Strategic Constraints of Economic Interdependence: South Korea's Changing Strategy in the Face of a Rising China Open Access

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This dissertation seeks to answer why South Korea's scope of strategic shift vis-à-vis a China that has become more powerful and assertive in the post-Cold War era is limited and restrained, especially when compared to the dramatic changes in Japan's strategic posture in dealing with a rising China in the post-Cold War era. Thus, while Japan has often been regarded as a prototype case that validates Walt's balance of threat (BOT) theory, South Korea's rather moderate and accommodating approaches to the PRC since the end of the Cold War have often been mentioned as a case that tends to defy the theory. In explaining the anomaly of South Korea's changing China strategy in the post-Cold War era from the standpoint of BOT theory, I focus on the changing nature of the economic interdependence between South Korea and China since diplomatic normalization in 1992 and demonstrate that holding all else constant, the effects of the threat posed by a rising China on the strategic decisions of South Korea are weakened to the extent that the economic interdependence between it and China is asymmetric in favor of the latter, emerging and potentially threatening power. In my analysis, not only do I trace the history of South Korea's gradually shifting China policy during the Cold War in an effort to provide a background for understanding South Korea's growing commercial interests in China; but also, I present an abbreviated account of Japan's broad scope of strategic shift regarding China since the end of the Cold War era. There is a growing volume of literature on South Korea's changing modes of response to a rising China in the post-Cold War era. However, despite the commonly accepted view that South Korea's growing reliance on China for sustaining the pace of economic growth has been playing a critical role in the former's strategic decision-making regarding the latter, few have attempted to systematically investigate the impact on South Korea's strategic posture of the economic ties between it and China in the post-Cold War era. This study therefore offers a useful account for understanding South Korea's limited scope of strategic shift toward a re-emerging China, taking into account the role of economics in a country's strategic decisions regarding a rising great power in a time of power shift and globalization.

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