29
May

Middlepowerism & Continuity in South Korean Foreign Policy: The way Seoul defines its middle-power status could offer the best insight into its policy direction.

By Jeffrey Robertson

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On coming to power, every South Korean presidential administration seeks to differentiate itself from those that went before. There are no exceptions. Administrations with identical party roots will distinguish themselves by creating new administrative structures, rebranding policy and reinventing rhetoric. This gives academics plenty to write about when they pen the all important one-hundred day reviews. But in the case of a state as dynamic as South Korea, they may be missing the point. It is not change that is significant, but rather continuity.

Elements of change in the foreign policy of the administration of President Park Geun-hye are clear. First, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) was divested of its responsibility for international trade negotiations and launched under a new name, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Second, policies blending both deterrence and reconciliation in relations with North Korea, and policies aimed at strengthening Northeast Asian cooperation have been rebranded under a new policy platform, the Northeast Asian Peace and Cooperation Initiative. Finally, the rhetoric to support policy has been reinvented. Before the Park administration’s term is up, we will hear much more of the terms “trustpolitik,” “trust building” and “trust diplomacy.”

Elements of change will receive extensive attention as academics and commentators start to review the Park administration’s foreign policy. Focusing on the first hundred days of any administration to attain insight into the trajectory of foreign policy is counterintuitive. With the current administration it may even be foolish. With difficult parliamentary confirmation hearings; challenges in securing passage of the administrative reorganization; and the necessity of immediately focusing on North Korean issues, the current administration has had a slow start.

Elements of continuity may tell us much more about South Korea’s foreign policy trajectory. Chief amongst these is middlepowerism.  Read more…

Jeffrey Robertson is a Visiting Professor at the Korea Development Institute (KDI) School of Public Policy and Management.

As published by The Diplomat on May 29, 2013.

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