Private-Sector Networks, Democracy, and Interstate Relations: A Case Study of South Korea and Taiwan

By Heo, Uk; Kim, Hayam | Asian Perspective, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Private-Sector Networks, Democracy, and Interstate Relations: A Case Study of South Korea and Taiwan


Heo, Uk, Kim, Hayam, Asian Perspective


Since South Korea and Taiwan established diplomatic ties in August 1948, the relationship between Seoul and Taipei has gradually expanded through public channels and private-sector networks. However, South Korea's normalization of relations with China in 1992 led Taiwan to sever its formal ties with South Korea. Nevertheless, Seoul and Taipei expanded their economic and cultural private-sector exchanges. What made this possible? We argue that the private-sector networks developed through economic and cultural exchanges enhanced national interests, which explains why the two governments facilitated expansion of their informal ties. Although the importance of personal networks has been studied in the context of intergovernmental organization memberships, there is a void in the literature on how private-sector networks may affect foreign relations. Thus, this study sheds light on the effects of private-sector networks on interstate relationships. KEYWORDS: democracy in East Asia, private-sector networks, South Korea, Taiwan.

SINCE SOUTH KOREA AND TAIWAN ESTABLISHED DIPLOMATIC TIES IN AUgust 1948, the relationship between Seoul and Taipei has expanded via public channels and private networks. The official relationship started in 1949 with an exchange of ambassadors. Taiwan president Chiang Kai-shek visited Seoul later in the year, while South Korean president Park Chung-hee returned the visit to Taiwan in 1966. In addition, the two countries codified their commitment to one another through such agreements as theAviationAgreement (1952), the Trade Agreement (1961), the CulturalAgreement (1963), anAgreement on Maritime Transport (1983), and an Air Transport Agreement (1986). Throughout the Cold War these two anticommunist governments maintained an amicable relationship and supported each other in the international arena.

The end of the Cold War, however, had significant political implications for these two governments. In 1992 South Korea normalized its relationship with the People's Republic of China (PRC).1 This move had significant political implications for the South Korea- Taiwan relationship because of the PRC's position that South Korea must cut its official relations with Taiwan before establishing diplomatic ties with Beijing. The PRC position was justified by the acknowledgment within the United Nations (UN) that Taiwan was a part of China and that only one China could be represented in the UN (Liu 1993). Thus, South Korea had to accept the one-China policy and could no longer recognize Taiwan as a separate nation.

The Taiwanese government felt betrayed, believing it had a close relationship with South Korea up to that point. Taipei harshly criticized the Korean government and abolished the Aviation Agreement. As a result, South Korean planes were not allowed to fly over Taiwanese airspace. Nearly all political and economic cooperation between them ended.Anti-Korean sentiment spread quickly in Taiwan, and a number of negative actions followed against South Korean companies and products. For instance, the number of antidumping lawsuits against Korean goods rapidly increased, and Taipei stopped South Korean companies from participating in subway construction projects. The relationship between South Korea and Taiwan deteriorated significantly.

However, due to their previous ties and economic interdependence, South Korea and Taiwan could not afford to completely sever the relationship. Therefore, they established unofficial relations in 1993 to resume contact with one another in the private sector. South Korea dispatched its representatives to Taipei in November 1993, and representatives from Taiwan went to Seoul two months later. The efforts to rebuild the relationship between them continued. Legislators in South Korea and Taiwan formed an association of goodwill in 1996, and the Korean government dispatched a rescue team to provide assistance to Taiwan when an earthquake hit the island in September 1999. …

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Private-Sector Networks, Democracy, and Interstate Relations: A Case Study of South Korea and Taiwan
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