August 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of South Korea and China’s establishment of diplomatic relations. Over the past decades, the two countries’ bilateral relations have faced opportunities and challenges on multiple fronts – economic, social and cultural, political, military, and security affairs. In particular, since the U.S. and Korea agreed to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in July 2016, South Korea and China’s bilateral relations have never been fully restored. Nevertheless, compared to 1992 when their diplomatic relations were first established, the two countries have made tangible progress in various fields despite ups and downs.
In line with recent changes in the U.S.-China relationship, South Korea as a U.S. ally has focused on making diplomatic spaces whenever sensitive, critical issues that could sour the U.S.-China relationship through strategic ambiguity, or strategic prudence, based on the framework of separately seeking security cooperation with the U.S. and economic cooperation with China. However, amid the intensifying U.S.-China strategic competition, ambiguity has gradually been losing its strategic value, and economic and security issues have become interconnected and overlapped more frequently. Against this backdrop, it is crucial to examine the feasibility of Korea’s two-pronged strategy of separately seeking security cooperation with the U.S. and economic cooperation with China, and effectiveness strategic ambiguity between Washington and Beijing.
In addition, at a time when the asymmetry of Korea-China relations is increasing with the Korean and Chinese people having unfavorable views of each other, a majority of Koreans view that the new administration’s China policy should seek to advance South Korea-China cooperation based on mutual respect and promotion of substantive cooperation. With this in mind, this article aims to forecast the new Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s China policy and provide policy recommendations in diplomatic, security, economic and trade, social and cultural domains.
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