Dealing with Dormant and Active Threats: The Strategy of South Korea toward China in the Post Cold War Era
Yoo, Hyon Joo
Policies that the Republic of Korea (ROK) has employed toward China in the post Cold War era pose a puzzle for Realism. A power-driven argument predicts that the rise of China compels the ROK either to strengthen its alliance with the United States or to seek a new alignment with China. However, despite drastic growth in China's material capability, South Korea has neither balanced against China nor bandwagoned with it. Moreover, existing literature on threat perception cannot explain why discussions on "a China threat" are absent in South Korea although Beijing constitutes good grounds for perceived threats to Seoul. This dissertation develops a new theoretical framework "dyad threats." The new theory explains how and why a given state differentiates between greater and lesser external threats aligned against it and whether this differentiation impacts the range of state behavior. The case study of South Korea reveals the relative strength of the dyad threats theory. South Korea's behavior with respect to China is influenced directly by the threat perception vis-à-vis North Korea. Despite potential threats from China, the predominance of threats from North Korea as a major security challenger to the ROK makes China threats dormant and causes Seoul to choose a policy far short of balancing against China and to seek Chinese help in mitigating the North Korea threats. However, when South Korea perceives decreased threats from North Korea, then more typical balancing behavior toward China becomes evident. The reduction of major threats from North Korea guides South Korea to recognize the existence of China threats immediately and therefore threats from China become active. This dissertation fills a void in our understanding of the processes by which states differentiate external threats and the range of state behavior that may sit in the grey area between balancing and bandwagoning.
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