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Part I: Korea’s Regional Relations

South Korea-China Mutual Perceptions, by Tze Chin “Alvin” Wong
Despite a growing political and economic relationship after the normalization of diplomatic ties between China and South Korea in 1992, irritants emerged and friction developed over this period as well, at both the official and people-to-people levels. While it would be difficult to isolate a single causal factor to account for the downward spiral of mutual public sentiment in recent years, dormant historical baggage was reawakened and worsened by economic and cultural frictions after 2000, and significant recent events such as the Goguryeo history dispute from 2004 and the Olympic Torch Relay incident in Seoul in 2008 combined with South Korean insecurities about economic overdependence on China has created a complex situation of negative mutual perception and public sentiment from both China and South Korea. A point of concern is the difficulty of calming hostile feelings, especially if such perceptions become entrenched among the public on both sides or accepted as conventional wisdom. At the moment, the leadership of both countries understands the gravity of the situation and the importance of strengthening people-to-people exchanges in order to build mutual confidence.

“South Korea-China Mutual Perceptions: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” is an excerpt from Part I of the 2009 SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook.

Inter-Korean Relations in 2009, by Paul Elliott
The year 2009 saw relations between North and South Korea turn bitter as the North launched the long-range Eunha-2 rocket and conducted a nuclear test in the spring. Yet by the fall, inter-Korean relations were on the mend as North Korea showed flexibility in cooperating with the South, which in turn offered to resume contributions of food aid. Recognition that 2010 is likely to bring major food shortages, coupled with the DPRK’s growing reliance both on China as a trading partner and its state trading companies as a source of funds for high- and mid-level officials, may have led Pyongyang to ease tensions with the South in order to obtain food aid. However, the government of President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul was hesitant to embrace renewed engagement with the North, as commitments to link inter-Korean aid to progress on denuclearization and moves made to contain and deter the North in response to the spring’s provocations had tied the Blue House to “principles” that prevented flexibility in dealing with the North. Still, the improvement in relations could not be ignored, and an inter-Korean Summit seemed possible by late fall. Yet if Seoul does not commit itself to a new aid relationship with the DPRK, the currently more or less cordial relationship is likely to become tense again.

“Inter-Korean Relations in 2009: Sources of Slow Rapprochement,” is an excerpt from Part I of the 2009 SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook.

South Korea’s Energy Diplomacy Towards Central Asia, by Sogaku Miyamoto
South Korea, which imports 97 percent of its total energy consumption, has actively conducted resource-seeking diplomacy in Central Asia. South Korea believes that by the mid twenty-first century, Central Asian countries, such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan, will become major energy suppliers, replacing the Middle East. Thus far, the South Korean government has successfully created a more politically and economically favorable environment to secure energy supplies from Central Asia and has also opened up opportunities for those who seek energy development in the region. President Lee’s development of strong personal relationships with leaders in the region has been particularly effective, as these countries still tend to have authoritarian regimes under which their leaders have more concentrated political power. However, uncertainties such as the region’s high economic volatility, underdeveloped civil society, weak democratic institutions, and corruption could undermine the effectiveness of South Korea’s energy diplomacy in the region. In addition, the scale of Korean investment and economic assistance in the region is significantly smaller than that of China and Japan. To this end, South Korea should take a holistic and strategic approach to meet its goals and overcome the difficulties associated with energy development in Central Asia by improving the comprehensive political risk assessment and crisis response system in the region and also by pursuing regional cooperation with Japan and China.

“South Korea’s Eneregy Diplomacy Towards Central Asia,” is an excerpt from Part I of the 2009 SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook.