Mutual Perceptions in South Korea-China Relations: The Need for Creative Arguing

By Kim, Yeikyoung; Chung, Jongpil | Asian Perspective, April-June 2013 | Go to article overview

Mutual Perceptions in South Korea-China Relations: The Need for Creative Arguing


Kim, Yeikyoung, Chung, Jongpil, Asian Perspective


We attribute the negative perceptions between South Korea and China to the absence of real argumentative interaction. Argumentative interaction is a social process that seeks mutual understanding through persuasive and noncoercive action. The argumentative process helps state actors to minimize their negative perceptions and to reach mutual understanding-an evolutionary process that leads to perceptional change. In the case of South Korea and China, two conditions are known to instigate arguing: uncertainty and conscious efforts by both actors. The governments and elites of both states should take significant roles in seeking policy alternatives and in building a healthy cyberspace. KEYWORDS: South Korea-China relations, mutual perceptions, argumentative action, constructivism.

BASED ON THE CONSTRUCTIVIST APPROACH, WE ASSERT IN THIS ARTICLE that "argumentative action" can contribute to reconstructing mutual perceptions between South Korea (Republic of Korea; ROK) and China (People's Republic of China; PRC). Since these nations established diplomatic ties in 1992, South Korea and China have made great progress in their bilateral relations through expanding diplomatic and economic cooperation. However, their mutual perceptions remain rather negative, which we attribute to the absence of real argumentative interaction. Argumentative interaction is a social process that seeks mutual understanding through deliberative, persuasive, and noncoercive action (Risse 2000; Checkel 2001; Manea 2009). The argumentative process helps state actors to minimize their negative perceptions and reach mutual understanding. The argumentative process is an evolutionary process that leads to perceptional change. In this article we pay special attention to the underlying motivation of state actors to participate in such arguing. In the case of South Korea and China, two conditions are known to instigate arguing: "uncertainty" and "conscious efforts" by South Korea and China.

In May 2008 South Korea and China agreed to establish a "strategic cooperative partnership" to advance their diplomatic relationship to a higher level. The undertaking dramatically strengthened their cooperation in diplomacy, security, the economy, and society. Furthermore, it facilitated close cooperation on global issues such as climate change and the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) (Snyder 2008a). The number of human exchanges between the two states also increased by an astonishing rate. For instance, these days more than 10,000 South Koreans visit China every day, and the international flights connecting the cities of the two states outnumber the total number of domestic flights in South Korea. At the same time, the number of Chinese tourists to South Korea has reached almost 2 million a year. From January to November 2010, 1.76 million Chinese tourists visited South Korea, an increase of 41.5 percent compared to the previous year (Kim Jin-hyuk 2011).

However, alongside the rapid expansion of bilateral exchanges and cooperation has come a simultaneous increase in the number of conflicts between the two countries. Potential conflicts previously hidden by the fast growth in relations have now surfaced. The first major case was triggered by China's "Northeast Project" in 2002, which has led to furious historical disputes.1 The second was the 2008 Beijing Olympic torch relay incident in South Korea in 2008, which led to a series of ruthless disparagements on the Internet by online observers of both states (Jih-Un Kim 2011). Such incidents have incited "anti-China" (banjoong or fanzhong) and "anti-Korea" (hyumhan or xianhan) sentiments, which may hinder the bilateral relationship.

With respect to bilateral economic relations, China has become South Korea's biggest trading partner and the largest source of its trade surplus, while South Korea has become the third-largest export market for Chinese products. The trade volume between South Korea and China has exceeded the scale of ROK-US trade since 2004. …

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