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The Peninsula

The Strait of Hormuz and South Korea’s “Balanced Diplomacy”

Published February 3, 2020
Author: Korea View
Category: South Korea, Iran

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

Implications: The South Korean government’s decision to dispatch troops to the Strait of Hormuz exemplifies South Korean idea of “balanced” diplomacy – accommodating different demands of surrounding powers while also avoiding any direct conflicts. South Korea partially conformed to the American request by expanding the Cheonghae Unit’s operational zone, but minimizing the risk of directly provoking Iran by not joining the IMSC.

The government also bypassed the difficulty of getting domestic approval for overseas troop deployment by framing it as an “extension” of the existing operation, rather than commencing a new mission. According to the law, the government needs parliamentary approval for overseas troop deployment. However, such consent is unnecessary for expanding the operation zone of a deployed unit.

Context: South Korea has managed to achieve a relatively successful balancing act between the demands of its most important ally and a potentially important future trade partner. South Korea was the 4th largest exporter to Iran in 2011. After the conclusion of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Korean exports to Iran grew from $6.1 billion to $12 billion in 2017. South Korea also imported approximately 230,000 barrels per day from Iran in 2011. The reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran in 2018 suspended this deep commercial relationship, but Seoul likely hopes for a speedy resolution of the tensions and the lifting of sanctions to reengage the growing consumer market in Iran.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, Hyungim Jang, and Ingyeong Park.

Image originally appeared on a Korea Herald article from March 12, 2019

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