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.