South Korea's development over the last half century has been nothing short of spectacular. Fifty years ago, the country was poorer than Bolivia and Mozambique; today, it is richer than New Zealand and Spain, with a per capita income of almost $23,000.
As Presidents Lee and Obama reaffirm the relationship and celebrate congressional approval of a long-pending free trade deal, they must also focus on difficult challenges ahead with North Korea and China's rise, say experts.
Korean Peninsula tensions are high, in part fueled by U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises. Experts say the United States must continue to work toward North Korea's denuclearization and prepare for volatility with a leadership change in Pyongyang.
The prickly relationship between Seoul and Washington gets tested this week as President Roh Moo-Hyun heads to the White House. Divisive issues include North Korea, trade, and control over joint military forces on the peninsula.
South Korea, which since the Korean War has relied heavily on its security alliance with the United States, is now trying to define a new role for itself in Asia. Seoul's growing economic relationship with China and its decision to engage North Korea are setting it at odds with U.S. policy goals in the region.
Escalating tensions on the peninsula due to North Korea's recent provocations motivate Presidents Xi Jinping and Park Geun-hye to closely coordinate policies toward the North. However, Beijing's shifty stance on sanctions, an increase in Sino-DPRK economic exchanges, and the obstacles to China-South Korea-Japan trilateral cooperation impede North Korea policy alignment between Beijing and Seoul. Still, the willingness of both leaders to improve bilateral relations offers a silver lining, explain CFR's Scott Snyder and See-won Byun of George Washington University.
On the upcoming South Korean presidential election, Scott A. Snyder says the determining vote will be "South Korea's bulging forties cohort" that played a critical role in South Korea's transition from authoritiarianism to democracy and also has the greatest stake in its economic stability.
Despite an ongoing threat from North Korea, South Korea has emerged as a producer rather than a consumer of international security goods. As a newly elected member of the UN Security Council, South Korea has the opportunity to use these investments as a "middle power" and responsible leader in the international community, says Scott A. Snyder.
Scott A. Snyder and See-won Byun observe that while the twenty-year anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and South Korea may provide a pretext for more active diplomacy to meet a growing list of potential disputes in the relationship, high-level contacts between China and North Korea have stalled, dampening China's hopes for regional engagement.
Scott A. Snyder and See-won Byun say that uncertainties regarding a new North Korean leadership will create the context in which China, South Korea, and the United States must grapple with their future options for preserving stability in Northeast Asia.
The Council on Foreign Relations' David Rockefeller Studies Program—CFR's "think tank"—is home to more than seventy full-time, adjunct, and visiting scholars and practitioners (called "fellows"). Their expertise covers the world's major regions as well as the critical issues shaping today's global agenda. Download the printable CFR Experts Guide.
The author examines Pakistan's complex role in U.S. foreign policy and advocates for a two-pronged approach that works to quarantine threats while integrating Pakistan into the broader U.S. agenda in Asia.