Between Ally and Partner: Korea-China Relations and the United States

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Between Ally and Partner: Korea-China Relations and the United States, by Jae Ho Chung. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. xiv +185 pp. US$40.00/£26.00 (hardcover).

In the early 21st century, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) faces the challenge of expanding its relations with China while maintaining good relations with the United States. More especially, South Korea is facing the dilemma of preserving its security relationship with the United States while accommodating China's growing economic and strategic clout in the region. Historically, the relationship between China and Korea was close but South Korea and China became adversaries after the Korean peninsula was divided. For nearly five decades, there were no official contacts between the two countries. In 1992, however, diplomatic relations were normalized, despite North Korean protests.

However, the rapprochement started more than a decade earlier, when trade relations between China and South Korea began to develop covertly during the 1980s. Following South Korean democratization, then-President Roh Tae-woo (1988-93) pushed for the normalization of diplomatic relations with China and other Communist countries. Since 1992, China has become South Korea's top trading partner and a primary destination for exports. China has developed into a major tourist destination for Koreans, and over half of all foreign students in China are reportedly from South Korea. China and South Korea increasingly cooperate to reduce tension on the peninsula with regard to North Korea.

Despite these significant changes over the last two decades, there has been a gap in the English-language literature on the dynamics of international relations within East Asia. Jae Ho Chung's book provides an important contribution to the understanding of the Sino-South Korean relationship and the implications for US policy. Focusing on South Korea, Chung discusses the factors that led to the normalization of diplomatic relations and the regional security implications of this. He uses multiple sources of data, including government archives in Korea, China and the United States, internal studies and reports, and media reports and surveys. Furthermore, he draws on personal interviews conducted with academics, policy-makers and bureaucrats in these countries over the last two decades. Applying international relations theory, Chung provides an analysis of the historical context of the normalization process, the prospects for further developments and the effects on the Korean-American security alliance. He addresses three main topics: the reasons for the rapprochement even before the end of the Cold War, the effects of economic rapprochement on diplomatic normalization, and the strategic dilemma which South Korea is facing as a result of these developments.

The strength of the volume lies in the thorough analysis of the political, diplomatic and bureaucratic developments leading up to diplomatic normalization. Chung draws on personal interviews to outline the development of economic ties and the negotiations to achieve diplomatic relations, giving the complicated proceedings some color. Initial investment and joint ventures were often handled indirectly through Hong Kong or with Chinese provincial governments, to avoid upsetting North Korea. …