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China-ROK Trade Disputes and Implications for Managing Security Relations
Published September 25, 2010
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This paper compares Sino–South Korean management of bilateral economic and political tensions; it argues that China’s WTO entry has provided an external institutional framework for managing disputes on the economic side that has facilitated bilateral trade growth. The lack of institutional mechanisms regulating bilateral security relations suggests that management of the Sino-ROK security relationship will be more difficult. An examination of the differing approaches to dealing with the Sino–South Korean “garlic war” of 2000, the “kimchi war” of 2005, and the melamine scandal of 2008 suggests that China’s integration into the global economic system in 2001 has provided a useful contextual framework for effective management of bilateral economic disputes.

The latter part of the paper reviews the debate on security institution-building efforts in Asia and assesses the framework for managing China-ROK security issues, using the Koguryo controversy in 2004 and impact on Sino-ROK relations of the response to the sinking of the Cheonan in 2010 as two case studies. Finally, we consider linkages between China-ROK economic and security ties and prospects for advancing the “strategic cooperative partnership” given current developments. This assessment of the management of bilateral disputes may enhance appreciation of the relative weakness of institutional mechanisms for managing the political and security side of the China-ROK relationship.

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