Officially, relations between the Republic of Korea and the People’s Republic of China remain cordial. Because of China’s economic heft and South Korea’s reliance on unmolested trade with the former for its continued economic development, South Korea takes great pains to be as neutral as possible between the United States and China despite its formal alliance with the US. As such, many pejoratively refer to South Korea as “the weak link” in America’s Northeast Asia alliance system. However, on a civil society level, an overwhelming majority of the South Korean public has a negative view of China—a view that has steadily gotten worse over time. Being a democracy that reflects voters’ popular will, growing anti-Chinese sentiment among voters means South Korea’s current policy of placating China will not be sustainable indefinitely. Meanwhile, the Trump administration largely neglected the alliance between South Korea and the United States. That neglect notwithstanding, an overwhelming majority of South Koreans either strongly or somewhat support the alliance with the United States. Conditions are perfect for the Biden administration to seek to repair and strengthen relations with South Korea to empower the alliance to serve as a credible bulwark against Chinese expansionism—this paper offers solutions on how to do so.
Download the full PDF of Issues & Insights Vol. 21, WP 6 – The Opportunity is There: South Koreans’ Views of China and the Future of the US-ROK Alliance