Sino-ROK Relations at a Crossroads: Looming Tensions amid Growing Interdependence
For the past 12 years, China and South Korea have significantly improved their bilateral ties—to such an extent that China is now South Korea's largest trading partner. Furthermore, China's role is essential to any progress in the ongoing Six-Party Talks over the North Korean nuclear issue. On the other hand, there also exists a growing yet little-discussed list of potential problems and issues underlying their otherwise prosperous relationship. Prime examples include the North Korean “refugees” in China, the history of Goguryeo, and the longer-term “China's rise.” In short, the current state of Sino-South Korean relationship can be likened to standing right in the eye of the typhoon without knowing where the shelter is. This paper attempts to shed some light on these little-discussed yet highly consequential aspects of the Sino-South Korean relationship, not only by addressing their 12-year ties but also by gauzing their future ties in a balanced and comprehensive manner. Overall, it poses a critical question: How would the China factor play out in South Korea's future security environment and in the evolving U.S.-South Korean relationship? Its conclusions can be summed up as follows: The seeming “convergence” of interests between Beijing and Seoul in many aspects of their bilateral ties does not necessarily mean that the former is supportive of South Korea's major policy goals—especially when they come to concrete issues or longerterm questions on the Korean peninsula.
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