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  • China's Rise and the Two Koreas: Politics, Economics, Security
  • Daniel C. Kane (bio)
China's Rise and the Two Koreas: Politics, Economics, Security, by Scott Snyder . Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2009. 241 pages, appendixes, bibliography, index. $55.00 cloth, $22.50 paper.

China's emergence as a formidable global economic powerhouse is a salient reality of the twenty-first century. The ramifications of this are numerous, epoch-making, and in many ways daunting. Nothing illustrates this better than the issue of the two Koreas. China has become both South and North Korea's major economic partner within the context of a divided and often mutually hostile peninsula. When you add to this the security and political concerns of the United States and economic rivalry of Japan the result is a challenging new reality indeed. In his book China's Rise and the Two Koreas: Politics, Economics, Security, Scott Snyder, a senior associate at the Asia Forum and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, explores the implications China's economic emergence, and its deepening ties with the South Korean economy, may have on the United States-South Korean security relationship as well as on the highly complex two Koreas-China-U.S. dynamic. In essence, Snyder is asking to what extent politics can be swayed by economics. Though he offers no definitive answers—and who could?—Snyder quite effectively illustrates the issues and questions at stake as China emerges to global power status and regional arbiter.

China's Rise and the Two Koreas is organized into nine chapters falling under three general themes: China-South Korea relations, China-North Korea relations, and finally, China's relations with the two Koreas in the context of the policy interests of the United States and Japan.

In the first three chapters Snyder offers a lengthy introduction to his [End Page 149] topic before delving into the background and development of the Sino-South Korean relationship, which though it began officially in 1992, has its origins in President Roh Tae Woo's dreams of reestablishing official relations with China as part of his larger Nordpolitik—checkmating North Korea by coming to peaceful and understanding terms with North Korea's primary allies (and the South's traditional foes) China and the then Soviet Union. China of course had its own reasons for opening relations with the South. As Snyder points out, more so than the other Asian Tigers of Singapore and Taiwan, it was South Korea, with its history of authoritarianism, a command economy, and rapid industrialization, that seemed to China's leaders to offer the best model for their own economic reform plans. One might add here as well that South Korea's deep cultural roots in Confucianism and strong historical and cultural ties to China made the rapprochement a natural idea whose time had come.

But the Sino-South Korea relationship has not been a smooth road. Snyder divides the relationship into four phases, evolving from one wherein South Korea was a provider of technological, managerial, and industrial knowhow in exchange for access to China's cheap labor, to a period of readjustment following the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s, to a sort of turning of the tables following China's 2001 entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the frightening dimensions of China's trade behemoth beginning to be felt in South Korea, to a current period of more readjustment as South Korea attempts to come to terms with contradictions in its deepening relationship with China and the security and political ramifications of it. Snyder delves into some of the more troublesome aspects of the relationship—from the "garlic wars" of 2000, to the ongoing spat over China's Northeast Asia History project, to the issue of North Korean refugees in China, to the more troublesome issue of Ssangyong Motors. But his major focus is the question of whether the lodestone of an increasingly interdependent economic relationship between China and South Korea has served to alter South Korea's political compass, turning it away from its traditional security relationship with the United States and bringing it more into line with China's geopolitical interests. The...


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