Home Contact Us  

China - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#4857, 6 April 2015

East Asia Compass

South Korea: US THAAD or Chinese AIIB?
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University

It is not an easy choice for South Korea to decide about participating in two initiatives, one spearheaded by the US and the other by China. The US insists on South Korea joining its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which is said to be a missile defence system to protect South Korea against any military adventurism by North Korea. However, the THAAD may allegedly be used to spy on China and Russia, and so the latter forbid South Korea’s participation in any such system. In another move, China has been quite active in the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which has been seen as a serious challenge to the existing international and regional economic arrangements that are largely dominated by the West and Japan. China is being quite persuasive in getting South Korea on board by offering it a founding member status. However, the US is not happy with the AIIB initiative and would like South Korea to keep away from it.

The contest between the US and China for the Asia-Pacific has made it difficult for South Korea to choose between THAAD and AIIB purely on the basis of its self-defined national interests. South Korea, has been trying to emerge as a middle power in regional politics since 2009, and finds it regressive to go back to either/or choices between the US and China. Under the rubric of its middle power diplomacy and as part of its ‘New Asia initiative’, South Korea became active in providing Official Development Assistance (ODA) to some of the poorest countries in the world, participated more actively in the various international organisations, and more importantly, tried to inject new positive agendas in regional politics by supporting ‘green growth’ etc. The global presence of South Korean companies and the popularity of South Korean cultural products in neighbouring countries, known as as ‘Hallyu’, have provided further impetus to South Korea’s rising stature in the region. South Korea’s attempt to balance between the US and China also emanates from its desire to play a more autonomous and constructive role between them, and this is considered a sine qua non of its emergence as a middle power.

Pragmatic realities also demand that South Korea should avoid taking sides between the two countries in any disagreement between them. The US military presence in South Korea and its security commitment to Seoul has been an undeniable fact for decades. However, China is also emerging as an important partner for South Korea by being its number one trading partner, in addition to its key role in South Korea’s dealings with North Korea. South Korea would thus like to maintain good relations with both the US and China for these practical reasons as well.

However, the dilemma South Korea faces on the THAAD and AIIB front is a difficult one. The best option, which has been prescribed by many scholars and even policy-makers and politicians in South Korea, is that it should join both initiatives. By doing so, South Korea would not be seen as defying either the US or China, and will be a position acceptable to both. Already, the US has diluted its position on South Korea joining the AIIB from ‘being unacceptable’ one year ago to ‘South Korea could decide by its own’, and there are chances that China would also come to terms with South Korea joining the THAAD.

However, the AIIB with China and the THAAD with the US do not go well with South Korea’s behaviour as a middle power, which would suggest a relatively more autonomous space in its policy-making. The AIIB is an economic platform and network led by China with whom South Korea already has massive economic exchanges; joining the AIIB therefore would not bring any fundamental shift in its bilateral relations with China or the US. Already, many close friends of the US such as the UK have declared their participation in it, and it would not be a big issue if South Korea also decides to joins. However, THAAD is different. Many scholars disagree with the claim that it is aimed at North Korea - they claim that its real targets are China and Russia. The skeptics say that the THAAD would not be very effective in averting the North Korean threat as the geographical proximity between South and North Korea is very close. Moreover, it is also said that South Korea has been trying to develop its own indigenous Korean Anti-Missile Defense (KAMD) system. For all these reasons, at the beginning, South Korea said that it was not interested in the THAAD. Furthermore, joining the THAAD would strain South Korea’s relations with both China and Russia and thus would hamper South Korea’s middle power diplomacy.

So, a rational choice for middle power South Korea would be to join the AIIB but to refuse the THAAD. But the choice for South Korea as an American ally would be to join the THAAD and not the AIIB. South Korea announced its decision to join the AIIB on 26 March 2015 but is yet to make its position clear on the THAAD. It would interesting to see what choice South Korea makes, as it would determine South Korea’s approach to regional politics in the future as well as its own place in its emerging dynamics.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Related Articles
Teshu Singh,
"China and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: A New Regional Order?," 31 October 2014

Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
'Comfort Women' and the Japan-South Korea Relationship

Denial and Provocation: Failure of US' North Korea Policy

Trump's Visit to East Asia

Shinzo Abe’s North Korea Strategy

North Korea: Testing the Limits of US-South Korea Relations

The US' Acrobatic Responses to the North Korean Riddle

Japan’s ‘New Approach’ to Russia: Is it Moving Forward?

India and the Koreas: Promises and Follow-ups

South Korea-North Korea: A New Version of Engagement

Trump’s North Korea Policy: Regional Implications

Park Geun-hye's Impeachment and South Korean Foreign Policy

US Tactical Nukes in the Korean Peninsula?

Forecast 2017: East Asia

Japan-China Contestation in 2017

Donald Trump and East Asia

PM Modi’s Visit to Japan: Prospects and Prudence

Future of the TPP and the US' Pivot to Asia

Russia’s Overtures in East Asia

China’s Game on North Korea

Six-Party Talks 2.0: Not for Denuclearisation but for Peace

Deadlock at Shangri-La: Is There a Way Forward?

North Korea’s 7th Party Congress: Context and Content

Japan’s New Security Laws: Context and Implications

What is the Efficacy of Sanctions on North Korea?

‘Brilliant’ Comrade: The Design in North Korean Madness

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.