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Reviewed by:
  • Between Ally and Partner: Korea-China Relations and the United States
  • Adam Cathcart (bio)
Between Ally and Partner: Korea-China Relations and the United States, by Jae Ho Chung . New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. 185 pages, tables, notes, index. $80.00 cloth, $27.50 paper.

Imposing clarity upon the cluttered chessboard of contemporary Northeast Asian geopolitics is a daunting proposition, but one at which Jae Ho Chung effortlessly succeeds in his book, Between Ally and Partner. Using a balanced blend of Chinese, Korean, and English-language sources, Chung deftly lays out the evolution of South Korea's economic and political ties with the People's Republic of China (PRC). In so doing, Chung creates a text that simultaneously overviews the contemporary history [End Page 153] of Sino-Korean relations, situates South Korea and China in regional context—especially, but not exclusively, with reference to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)—and sets the table for intelligent prognostication.

Chung's text is written in a sparse prose style that moves nimbly through eight clean, clearly organized chapters. More than half of his footnotes originate with Chinese sources and literature written by Chinese scholars in recent years. One of the best aspects of this text is its consistent and productive engagement with Shijie Zhishi, the Beijing periodical affiliated with the PRC Foreign Ministry. The author's extensive travels to China and meetings with scholars there in (and since) the liberal 1980s, as well as his work in international relations theory, adds nicely to the book's core narrative, a narrative buttressed with standard citations such as Chosŏn Ilbo, Dong-A Ilbo, and various South Korean government reports and scholarship. Chung's book therefore stands as a wonderful complement to work by Chae-Jin Lee and as an essential guidebook to the historical background among these key Northeast Asian powers.

Chung begins with an obligatory look back at Sino-Korean relations in antiquity, noting the impact of the tributary relationship with China. In Chung's treatment of the historical controversies surrounding Koguryŏ, the author engages with actual Chinese scholarship on the northeast, as opposed to merely citing South Korean characterizations of what that project may mean. Chung, however, is never long detained and quickly chisels down into the early Cold War, where he pauses to reflect upon the politics of memory of the Korean War, the role played by Korean exile groups in history, and the slow development of people-to-people relations in the era of Park Chung-hee. Probably the most interesting assertion here involves a juxtaposition of anti-Japanese with anti-China sentiment in South Korea. Chung writes:

If Japan's colonial rule over Korea.... has not been forgotten and perhaps never will, China's military actions against South Korea during the Korean War (1950—1953) appears to have been almost totally forgiven by the South Koreans. This raises an intriguing question: Is the recency of a negative incident or the duration of that incident more likely to condition one state's sentiments toward another?... Given that the lion's share of the over 930 foreign invasions that Korea has had to endure throughout its history came from various dynasties and tribal groups of China, to maintain Korea within its 'sphere of influence,' Koreans' positive—even unconditionally favorable—views of China are both interesting and puzzling.

(pp. 12-13)

Chung does not tender an answer, but the posing of questions like this one is highly valuable for readers and points to certain rather curious [End Page 154] silences in Northeast Asia's politics of memory. Indeed, perhaps locking horns over Koguryŏ is a means of avoiding uncomfortable conversations about the Korean War.

In approaching the topic of relations prior to 1988, Chung notes that "traditional China-Korea dyadic relations were reformulated as two parallel relationships—namely, ROK-ROC and DPRK-PRC relations." Although Chung clearly notes the Cold War alignments, he curiously fails to even mention the presence of Chinese troops in North Korea until 1958, a presence that one has to otherwise assume was harmful to the development of a pro-China outlook in Seoul. And, though it heightened Chinese apprehension at the...


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