Seoulmates ?…

March 22, 2009 at 6:15 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

antius1The relationship between South Korea and America is not what it used to be. But it stands to reason that the relationship will only keep growing …apart.

The RoK has depended on its alliance with America since the Korean War but after the opening of China and the fall of the USSR, South Korea finally found contiguous markets and cheap labour with which to fuel its economy.

Just as important, its trade is no longer entirely dependant on sea lanes and air routes passing through Japan. The Sea of Japan involves Korea and is a source of unresolved territorial disputes between the two nations.

The relations are further strained by the history of Japanese domination and colonisation. In Korea, the anti-American prejudice is prevalent and only surpassed by niponophobia and strong feelings against the totalitarian north.

Alliances and partnerships are of course objective but in democracies the prejudices of the people speak loud and this leaves the South Korean leaders one viable partner: Russia.

The one neighbour never to have dominated Korea, Russia is also a big market, a valuable partner in technological endeavours and a privileged supplier of raw materials and energy. Russia shares Korea’s interest in keeping both Beijing and Tokyo from dominating the region – partnering with Russia would also help to downplay China’s continental hegemony in the Far East.

Furthermore, unlike the PRC and Japan, Korea does not possess enough critical mass to balance its regional rivals and in addition mobilise forces to protect its trade flows. Were such ambitious deployments to be realised and it would undoubtedly put too much pressure on the Korean budget and military establishment. This means that regional trade partners with contiguous borders are in extreme high demand from Seoul.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s considerably superior influence over the DPRK is also to be factored in, since the Korean reunification is a priority.korrus2

After considering all this, one must ask what the US has to offer to the Koreans. Washington still has technology and equipment the Koreans need but the military ties are a constant embarrassment for the government and their pertinence is out of date. The DPRK is no longer a threat, and neither are China or Russia. The American market will always be important but China will quickly become the paramount client.

Finally, the US are of little use in Seoul’s rivalry with Tokyo due to the Quadrilateral agreements.

Reality dictates that South Korea will much rather catch the transiberian in a nearby future than board the transpacific.


  1. M. Silva said,

    Japan, South Korea, and the United States after the Cheonan Sinking

  2. M. Silva said,

    STRATFOR Dispatch: China Factors in U.S.-South Korean Relations

  3. M. Silva said,

    S. Korea, Russia Seek Air Force Hotline

    SEOUL – The top commanders of the South Korean and Russian militaries agreed to establish a hotline between their air forces to boost bilateral ties, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) here said Sept. 27.

    Nikolai Makarov, chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, arrived in Seoul a day earlier for a three-day visit. The Russia military chief held talks with South Korean JCS Chairman Gen. Han Min-koo to discuss ways of improving bilateral cooperation, the JCS said in a statement.

    Asia & Pacific Rim
    Air Warfare
    “The visit by Makarov is expected to help foster a friendly relationship between the two countries’ armed forces and upgrade the relationship to a strategic partnership on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Seoul and Moscow,” the statement said.

    Among the key topics are the establishment of an Air Force hotline, goodwill exchanges of military personnel, warships and aircraft, and the holding of joint search-and-rescue exercises on a regular basis, said JCS public affairs officer Lt. Col. Won Young-sup.

    Russia’s integrated logistics support for Russian weapon systems operated by the South Korean military was also an agenda item, he said.

    “The two sides shared the need to set up an Air Force hotline at an early date,” Won said. “Details will be discussed by working-level officials from the two countries.”

    Currently, the navies from the two countries operate a naval hotline.

    During the meeting with Han, Makarov expressed his condolences to the victims of the sinking of the Cheonan on March 26 in the western waters of the Korean Peninsula, JCS officials said.

    The Russian general, however, gave no indication whether Moscow would make public the results of its own investigation of the ship sinking, they said.

    In May, a Seoul-led multinational team of investigators determined that the Cheonan corvette was sunk by a torpedo fired from a North Korea submarine. North Korea has denied any involvement in the naval disaster that killed 46 sailors.

    In June, Russia sent a team of investigators for an independent probe into the sinking.

    Makarov is scheduled to pay a courtesy call on South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young and pay his respects at the national cemetery in Seoul.

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