09 August 2016
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se once again defended the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system on the Korean peninsula in a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in late July. Wang responded that Seoul’s decision had ‘harmed the foundation of mutual trust’ between their two countries.
South Korea has achieved remarkable successes in its pursuit of ‘responsible middle-power diplomacy’. It has been recognised as a leader, bridge, agenda setter andactivist on the global stage — roles commonly associated with middle powers. Yet as Wang’s comments show, Seoul has been less successful in its regional diplomacy. Can Seoul reconcile its ambition to be a middle power on the global stage with regional realities?
Former president Roh Tae-woo was the first South Korean leader to adopt the ‘middle power’ label, during a visit to the United States in June 1991. The foundations of South Korea’s middle-power identity have been built upon the country’s spectacular economic growth and industrialisation from the 1960s to the early 1990s. Emerging from the Korean War as one of the poorest nations in the world, by 1996 South Korea’s economy had risen to become the 11th largest. With a GDP of about US$1.4 trillion, it now sits between conventionally acknowledged middle powers Canada and Australia in global rankings.
… Sarah Teo is a PhD student at the Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney, and an Associate Research Fellow with the Regional Security Architecture Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.
IDSS / Online
Last updated on 11/08/2016