Princeton University Library Catalog
- Chon, Sungwoo [Browse]
- Senior thesis
- He, Yinan [Browse]
- Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
- Class year:
- 144 pages
- Restrictions note:
- Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
- Summary note:
- In 2011, the Obama Administration announced a major shift in American foreign
policy. Christened by analysts as the “Pivot to the Pacific,” this new foreign policy
approach is a reflection of the changing international landscape. More specifically, it
encapsulates a solemn recognition on the part of the United States, the world’s sole
superpower, that the twenty-first century will witness the emergence of Asia-Pacific as
not only the global engine of economic growth, but also the center of global geopolitics.
The United States, a member of Asia-Pacific, has declared its intention to become
a dominant force in the Asia-Pacific arena. Meanwhile, China has assumed the other lead
role on this stage of international intrigue. Empowered by its meteoric economic
ascension over the past few decades, China is now determined to become a geopolitical
force in Asia and beyond. While the hope is that the U.S. and China become cooperative
champions for peace and prosperity throughout Asia-Pacific, recent developments seem
to indicate that the two might instead be foils, even outright adversaries, of one another.
In addition to this great power interaction, Asia-Pacific, and East Asia in
particular, boasts of a multitude of other important players. South Korea is perhaps the
most important middle power in East Asia, as it is not only an economic power, but also
very relevant to the region’s geopolitics, given its geographic location on the Korean
peninsula and strong relations with the U.S.
This thesis, then, focuses on the United States, China, and South Korea and their
interactions within the context of East Asia. Their interactions are captured by the U.S.-
China-South Korea strategic triangle, which, given the aforementioned profiles of the
three players, is an exceedingly important component of the larger Asia-Pacific strategic
landscape. This thesis takes a specific interest in the middle power, South Korea, by
engaging in a three-dimensional (security, historical-cultural, and economic) examination
of Sino-South Korean relations and analyzing the influence that Sino-South Korean
relations project on U.S.-South Korean relations.
Through rigorous exploration and analysis of recent developments in Sino-South
Korean relations, this thesis finds that the security dimension of said bilateralism is
troubled and a source of tension between Beijing and Seoul; that the historical-cultural
dimension, despite its divisive history and existing antagonism between the Chinese and
South Korean peoples, has not fundamentally threatened official interactions between
Seoul and Beijing; and that the economic dimension has hitherto been the
incontrovertible bright spot in the China-South Korea bilateral relationship.
From this assessment of Sino-South Korean relations, this thesis arrives at the
following conclusion regarding the influence of Sino-South Korean relations on U.S.-
South Korean relations: a contentious China-South Korea security dimension, which is
what is observed in the status quo, is likely to strengthen U.S.-ROK relations if it
continues on its current; the historical-cultural dimension is unlikely to significantly
impact U.S.-ROK, unless it sours dramatically more than in the past years; and the
economic dimension has begun to show signs of structural changes that, if left
unaddressed, have the potential to strengthen U.S.-ROK ties. The final part of this thesis
present policy considerations from Seoul’s perspective. Two overarching policy
objectives—building trust with Beijing and assuming a balancing role—are identified and
recommended as the groundwork for specific policies.