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  • South Korea’s Rise in Comparative Perspective
  • Xiaobo Hu (bio) and Michael A. Morris (bio)

In recent decades, South Korea has had a distinctive rise in status in the international order, relying on gains in all major components of national power—economic, military, political, and societal. While much attention has been directed to South Korea’s rise, comparative implications and aspects have not—hence, this special issue.

A comparative perspective addresses a number of key questions:

  • • What is distinctive as well as shared about South Korea’s rise when compared with other newly industrialized countries? How are sui generis as well as recurring aspects of South Korea’s rise reflected in different components of national power, such as economic, military, political, and societal?

  • • Are the recurring aspects of South Korea’s rise reflected by sector in other rising East Asian countries? In what contrasting ways is the rise of these other East Asian powers sui generis?

  • • How does South Korea’s rise compare by sector to that of a rising China?

  • • How do the above comparisons lend insight into what is idiosyncratic and recurring or shared about South Korea’s rise?

Domestic and International Perspectives

A systematic framework is needed to address these multiple comparisons regarding South Korea’s rise: domestic, international, and sectoral perspectives, treated in economic, political, security, [End Page 3] and societal dimensions. In particular, two basic perspectives on South Korea’s rise deserve attention: a domestic perspective and an international perspective.

Domestic Perspective

South Korean domestic and foreign policies responsible for this multifaceted rise need to be tracked, and lessons learned need to be identified and specified. While South Korea’s rise has attracted much attention, the record of specific South Korean public policies needs to be compared and assessed. The role of the private sector also needs to be considered. We need to consider how public policy interfaces and interacts with the private sector in different areas. In addition, how does the domestic context position South Korea for an international rise in status?

Since the end of World War II, South Korea has experienced a major war, military dictatorship, and democratization, along with rapid industrialization and continual growth of military tension on the Korean peninsula. Against this background, choosing the right policies becomes much more challenging, but also promises to be more rewarding.

International Perspective

Rising powers in Asia and beyond have received much attention, although comparisons between them have been largely random and unstructured. A clear exposition of lessons learned across domestic and foreign policies about South Korea’s rise gained from the domestic perspective can provide a basis for systematic comparisons with the rise of other countries in Asia and beyond—including the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. South Korea-based comparisons with other newly industrialized countries and rising powers will involve both domestic and international public policies. Domestic public policies include those related to industry, transportation, energy and the environment, and research and development in high technology. International public policies include foreign and defense policy. Systematic comparisons between South Korea’s rise and the rise of other [End Page 4] countries can lend insight into the dynamics of each country’s rise as well as how each national case impacts the international order.

Given the continuity of the Cold War mentality in Northeast Asia, the international policy choices seem to be limited for South Korea. In making comparisons, we need to understand how this circumstance has affected South Korea’s choices of domestic policies, especially strategies for rapid economic growth. Peace and predictability are essential for economic investment, and government policies are vital to ensure a healthy environment for investment, economic and political as well as societal.

With both perspectives, domestic and international, new research on South Korea’s rise has to revisit some of the fundamental issues in the debate on developmental models. By doing so, the case of South Korea’s rise can be further highlighted.

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pp. 3-15
Launched on MUSE
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