Nationalism and South Korean Foreign Policy

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This paper aimed to identify whether there is a positive correlation between Korean nationalism and South Korean foreign policy towards the United States. The review of the literature focused on the empirical case of Korea–Japan relations, which vividly demonstrates how South Korean nationalism defines Seoul’s foreign policy programme. The review of this case led to the conclusion that the nationalist-oriented framework for implementing foreign policy is relevant to South Korea. Based on this framework, Seoul’s foreign policy programme for Washington for the past 20 years was examined to determine whether it was affected by anti-American sentiments.

At the beginning of the 2000s, there was a wave in anti-Americanism among South Korean elites and masses. In 2002, an escalated distrust towards the United States led to the victory of Roh Moo-hyun whose presidential campaign was saturated with anti-American sentiments. However, already by the time of next presidential elections in 2007, the perception of the US among South Korean elite and masses improved and anti-Americanism almost vanished. As a result, a pro-American candidate, Lee Myung-bak, won the elections.

Since the victory of President Lee the pro-American discourse in South Korean foreign policy did not undergo substantial changes. In 2013, Park Geun-Hye, who advocated for a continuous rapprochement with the US, took office in the Blue House. The pro-American course remains constant now. Present South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, won 19th presidential elections in South Korea with a defined pro-American track in 2017. Even despite his intention to make Seoul more independent in decision- and policy-making concerning regional security issues.

Such pro-American tendency in South Korean politics results from positive perception of the US among Koreans. Even though there are both anti-American and pro-American opinions, positive perception of the US dominates in South Korean society. This research paper demonstrates that the positive image of the United States is created via several essential variables such as common sympathy of Koreans for American democratic values and culture. However, despite a relatively strong preference of US entertainment, it is not as strong as the one for American democracy.

In addition to the US-style democracy model and Hollywood entertainment aspects, there is one more factor that I find essential for pro-American attitude in South Korean society. Korean national identity plays a pivotal role in constructing a positive image of the United States. National identity is not stable but an evolving socially constructed concept. In the Korean case, it was transformed and primarily affected by strong anti-Japanese and pro-American sentiments, thus creating a defined setting for South Korean domestic and foreign politics.

Based on this analysis, it is concluded that there is a negative correlation between South Korean nationalism and Seoul’s foreign policy towards the United States. Today, anti-Americanism is no longer used for any political purposes, neither is it linked to any reactionary tendency in South Korean society (Ko, 2014). South Korean politicians use nationalists sentiments for creating foreign policy in a targeted manner similar to what they do in the case of Korea–Japan relations. But even though Korean nationalism can play a role as a significant factor in shaping South Korean foreign policy, it does not apply to contemporary South Korea–US bilateral relations.


Cite this paper

Nationalism and South Korean Foreign Policy. (2020, Nov 25). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/nationalism-and-south-korean-foreign-policy/

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