Edited by Christopher M. Dent
Chapter 12: A Shrimp Among the Whales? Korea in the Northeast and East Asia Regional System
Christoph Bluth and Christopher M. Dent 1. INTRODUCTION This chapter examines both the security and international political economy dimensions of Korea’s key position in the Northeast and East Asia regional system. For more than a century, Korea has been the focus of the geopolitical struggle between the Asia Paciﬁc major powers, Russia, China, Japan and the United States. According to an old Korean saying, ‘a shrimp gets crushed to death in the ﬁght between the whales’. As a small nation on the geopolitical fault-lines of Northeast Asia, Korea has suﬀered foreign occupation, devastating wars and division. The Korean Peninsula remains a critical factor in the future of the region. It is the one place in Northeast Asia where there continues to exist a serious threat of large-scale military conﬂict. At the same time, South Korea has some considerable status in the regional political economy of East Asia. It is the region’s third largest economy, one of its most advanced industrial states, has large conglomerated companies (the chaebol, such as Samsung) with considerable global reach and presence, and one of the world’s most skilled and educated workforces. New and dynamic developments in East Asian regionalism have provided South Korea with opportunities to exploit its middle power position in Northeast and East Asia, as well as act as an intermediary between Japan and China, especially in Northeast Asia’s emerging trilateral cooperation framework. While South Korea may lack various forms of capacity to exercise regional leadership in a singular independent...
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