Economic Integration, External Forces and Political Cooperation between South and North Korea in the UNGA 1

By Hwang, Wonjae; Oh, Hyejin et al. | North Korean Review, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Economic Integration, External Forces and Political Cooperation between South and North Korea in the UNGA 1


Hwang, Wonjae, Oh, Hyejin, Kim, Jinman, North Korean Review


Introduction

Does economic integration between South and North Korea generate positive spillover effects on their relationship? Or, are geopolitical factors and security issues still powerful enough to dominate Korean politics, limiting the effect of economic integration? The level of economic integration between the two Koreas has deepened over time. The amount of bilateral trade was only about $1.1 million three years after they officially began their trade relationship in 1988. It increased to $400 million in 2000 and then $2 billion in 2012. Currently, South Korea is North Korea's second largest trading partner, accounting for about 38 percent of its total trade in 2007. Considerable research argues that economic integration generates positive spillover effects on economic partners socially and politically.2 Scholars of liberal peace, for instance, claim that bilateral economic interdependence reduces the likelihood of militarized conflict between trading partners.3 Strong economic ties and material gains generated from it may promote economic partners' incentive to maintain or strengthen their relationship and avoid threats that may disrupt their partnership. Frequent interactions can also increase common knowledge, understanding, and interest on various issues. To the extent it occurs, economic partners are likely to narrow their policy preference gaps over various foreign policy issues.4 In this regard, it is reasonable to suspect that increasing economic integration between the two Koreas may have promoted their foreign policy preference similarity, increasing political cooperation in international organizations.

Meanwhile, from a realist perspective, military tension and external forces on the peninsula, such as the U.S. and China, are still powerful factors that drive Korean politics. From this perspective, inter-Korean relations and their foreign policies have been shaped and affected by geopolitical issues and regional super powers. Therefore, bilateral economic integration may have a negligible impact on inter- Korean relations.

Both claims have solid theoretical grounds. Nevertheless, virtually no empirical studies have tested these claims and show whether economic integration has gen- erated any positive spillover effects on inter-Korean relations. This article examines whether deepening economic integration has promoted cooperation between the two Koreas by analyzing their voting (dis)similarity in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) over the time period, 1991-2011. Also, it tests whether their voting decisions are strongly influenced by the positions of the U.S. and China on the issues. Empirical results show no significant evidence that economic integration promotes cooperation between South and North Korea in the UNGA. However, the two Koreas show relatively similar voting patterns over economic issues and Palestinian issues, while they tend not to agree on nuclear, security, and human rights issues. Meanwhile, their vote coincidence is strongly influenced by the United States' and China's positions on votes. These results imply that political rather than economic factors are still significant in explaining non-cooperation on the Korean Peninsula.

In the following pages, we first examine the theoretical basis of the relationship between economic integration and states' cooperation. Next, we explore states' voting behavior in the UNGA in general and that of the two Koreas in particular. Research design, the data and variables used in this article, and the empirical results are reported in the next section. Finally, we conclude with a summary of the findings and their implications.

Economic Integration and Cooperation Between States

Economic integration, which is typically defined as the free flow of goods, capital, and labor across national borders, has deepened in many places in the world. The Korean Peninsula is not an exception from this global trend. Ever since the devastating Korean War in 1950-1953, the two Koreas lacked a formal economic relationship until 1988. …

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