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Part I: South Korea’s Foreign Relations

The Lee Myung-bak Revolution: Explaining Continuity and Change in South Korea’s Foreign Policy, by Alisher Khamidov
Alisher analyzes the changes to South Korea’s foreign policy that occurred when President Lee Myung-bak came to power. In a major break from his predecessors, Lee adopted an aggressive policy toward North Korea that linked economic assistance to its abandonment of its nuclear weapons program, a break that eroded many achievements from past administrations. At the same time, Alisher points to issues where Lee’s foreign policy demonstrated a degree ofcontinuity with his predecessors. Of these, the most notable issues were Lee’s steadfast support of the KORUS FTA which was negotiated under the Roh administration, and the continued transformation of the U.S.-ROK alliance into a security alliance with only modest modification. Alisher focuses on these three issues to illustrate the divergent responses of the Lee administration to previous policy directions and poses the question as to why this variance exists, especially in light of Lee’s promise for change in his presidential campaign and the subsequent anticipation that he would bring about radical changes in all areas. Additionally, Lee’s party, the conservative GNP, won an absolute majority in the Parliament, providing legislative support and allowing for him to implement broad-based changes. Alisher addresses this puzzle by closely examining politics within the government, between political parties, and in the context of society at large. He argues that the inconsistencies in Lee’s foreign policy directions can be better understood by dispelling the myth of a bipolar political inclination in South Korea, as well as by examining the institutional constraints of Korea’s political structure as a whole.

KORUS Free Trade Agreement: A Lost Year, by Michal Petrik
Michal analyzes the various political, economic and social changes that occurred within the United States and South Korea that worked to prevent the ratification of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) in 2008. He asserts that the victory of Lee Myung-bak in the 2007 presidential elections and his Grand National Party in the 2008 parliamentary elections put strong proponents of the KORUS FTA into power, while at the same time, the Democratic Party’s loss of power deeply influenced its stand on the FTA; thus the party that initially started the trade negotiations quickly became the FTA’s greatest opponent. Similar political obstacles to KORUS FTA ratification arose on the U.S. side as well. Leading up to the November elections, movement on all FTA discussions was deadlocked due to an impasse between the Republican administration and Democratic-majority in Congress. With a full Democratic sweep in the November 2008 elections, Barack Obama became President with his Democratic Party holding majority in both the House and Senate. Although this sweep created the possibility for swift enactment of Obama’s agenda, Democrats have historically opposed FTAs more than their Republican counterparts and key Democratic legislators began to voice heated opposition to the KORUS FTA.

The Current State of South Korean Civil Society under Lee Myung-bak, by Sandy Yu
Sandy examines the current state of South Korean civil society under Lee Myung-bak. More specifically, she focuses on the ideological chasms found within South Korean civil society organizations, as well as the current and future challenges civil society organizations face in an increasingly disconnected South Korean society. Her analysis highlights that in 2008, cleavages between conservative and progressive groups resulted in two major social movements: candlelight vigils against U.S. beef imports and the North Korean human rights balloon campaign. By focusing on these two civil society movements, Sandy draws conclusions about the relationship between civil society organizations and the Lee Myung-bak administration, as well as South Korea’s relations with the United States and North Korea.

The Korea Brand: The Cultural Dimension of South Korea’s Branding Project in 2008, by Li-Chih Cheng
Li-Chih analyzes South Korea’s efforts to improve its image and reputation to international audiences. Surprised at Korea’s low rankings in the Anholt-Gfk Roper Nation Brand Index, President Lee Myung-bak vowed in 2008 to place greater emphasis and resources into the shaping and managing of South Korea’s brand and increasing Korea’s soft power. In Li-Chih’s examination, she evaluates the effectiveness of past nation branding and cultural diplomacy policies and campaigns. Her evaluation of the “Dynamic Korea” campaign designed around World Cup 2002 which evoked positive images in Asia but not in the West, as well as the success of the cultural phenomenon of hallyu (the Korean Wave) in Asia but not the West, reveals the need for country and/or region-specific branding efforts.

Li-Chih also examines the role of cultural diplomacy as a critical tool to increasing South Korea’s soft power. Her analysis includes an evaluation of the three pillars of the Lee administration’s cultural diplomacy policy: the formulation of long term programs, the stimulation of the culture industry, and the creation of a second wave of hallyu. Li-chih argues that although the new government is filled with ambition, Korea’s nation branding and cultural diplomacy policies are very much still in an infant stage and that increased emphasis on actively managing Korea’s brand will only be effective if backed by first-class cultural contents and well-coordinated government policies.

China, Russia, and the Koreas, by Eduard Eykelberg
Eduard examines important developments in China’s and Russia’s relations with the Korean peninsula. He argues that China’s hosting of the Summer Olympics and Russia’s invasion of the former Soviet satellite state, Georgia, symbolizes the rise – or at least a rise in assertiveness – of both China and Russia. For Korea this implies a sensitive change in its strategic environment, a change that is being accentuated by an overstretched and financial-crisis weakened ally, the United States.

Eduard’s paper examines how in 2008, China and Russia pursued new efforts to gain access to and cooperation with both North and South Korea. China’s importance in North and South Korea is clearly stronger than Russia’s due to historical and geographic realities in the region. However, while China’s influence has grown incrementally and at a steady pace, Russia’s presence on the peninsula expanded vastly in 2008. Eduard argues that, although the intensified interest in and competition between China and Russia over the two Koreas may place restraints on future China-Russia relations, this competition offers great security benefits to the region as a whole, and substantial benefits to the economic future of the Korean peninsula.