“Finally, what is the likely future course of Korean foreign policy? For the South, the answer is easy. Barring unification, the Southern Republic will almost certainly retain the US alliance as the ultimate guarantor of its autonomy. Going your own way is hugely risky, as NK will find out if the 5 other parties of the 6 party talks can ever coordinate a common front against it. Striking out independently from the US risks Chinese subordination. President Roh’s brief flirtation with China (2004-2007) was more to flatter South Korean ego that the country was a ‘player’ or ‘mediator’ between the US and China. The Chinese blithely rebuffed this, and their Dongbei Manchurian history project and treatment of NK refugees quickly drove the South back to the US under the current conservative President Lee.
The North is clearly much more exposed. Going it alone is extraordinarily difficult for small states, and NK’s economic contraction makes this even harder. Clearly the nuclear program is an extreme measure to preserve autonomy from Chinese encroachment particularly. Unlike the SK’s US alliance, if the NK bandwagons openly and clearly with China, it will be absorbed or dominated. The Chinese have neither the geographic distance nor the democratic scruples to preserve NK autonomy.
A unified Korea would change these calculations. I see two possibilities. One, a unified ROK could aspire to stand on its own, particularly if Russia and Japan continue their relative decline. Massive demobilization would follow unification – the NK People’s Army alone has one million soldiers. That newly freed manpower could fuel a production and baby boom that could put a unified ROK within striking distance of still struggling Russia and Japan.
But that still leaves China, rising China. So possibility two is the increasing likelihood that the Chinese price for unification will be the finlandization of united Korea – strict neutralism. Given the US’ relative decline vis-à-vis China, it is unlikely the US will be able to counterbalance this pressure. When Germany unified, West Germany was stronger than South Korea, and East Germany was not as bad off as North Korea. The US was stronger then than now, and the USSR was much weaker than China is now. So the balance of forces today favors a more sinified outcome, and the likely Chinese price for unification is the termination of the US alliance and the withdrawal of the USFK.”
This conference got some press coverage, as have the others I participated in here. That is quite a change from the US, where no really seems to care much about academic conferences.
My argument that the Chinese will likely force Korea to choose between unity and the US alliance went down badly. People didn’t seem to like that, but the Chinese are certainly taking a a tougher line on Korea. I have been to four of these sorts of conferences with Chinese colleagues this year, and the vibe is increasingly: ‘the Olympics went well; the US is a mess; we’re on the up and up; you will need to start to account for us.’ In fact, one of the Chinese scholars at this conference bluntly said in the discussion, “We are big and rich now. Why should we listen to the US?” By extension, that would include Japan and Korea.
NORTH-EAST ASIAN NATIONAL POWER STATISTICS
|Country||Population(Millions)||Birth Rate||Land Mass(km2)||Gross Domestic Product (GDP in billions of US Dollars)||GDP(Purchasing Power Parity in billions of USD)||Economic Growth Rate||Budget(in billions of USD)||Military Spending (% of GDP & absolute value in billions of USD)||Military Manpower(millions)||Army Manpower(millions)|