Korea - Foreign Relations
South Korea joined the United Nations in August 1991 along with North Korea and is active in most UN specialized agencies and many international forums. South Korea has hosted major international events such as the 1988 Summer Olympics, the 2002 World Cup Soccer Tournament (co-hosted with Japan), and the 2002 Second Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies. In 2010, the country hosted the R.O.K.-Japan-China Trilateral Summit as well as the G-20 Seoul Summit. It will host the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Economic considerations have a high priority in Korean foreign policy. The R.O.K. seeks to build on its economic accomplishments to increase its regional and global role. It is a founding member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and chaired the organization in 2005.
In addition to its extensive network of trading partners, South Korea has diplomatic relations with more than 170 nations. The external posture of South Korea in general, and toward North Korea in particular, began a new chapter in the 1980s. While retaining its previous goal -- enhancing political legitimacy, military security, and economic development by maintaining close ties with the West -- South Korea greatly expanded its diplomatic horizons by launching its ambitious pukpang chongch'aek (see Glossary), northern policy, or Nordpolitik. Nordpolitik was Seoul's version of the Federal Republic of Germany's (West Germany) Ostpolitik of the early 1970s. Since the 1980s, relations with China played an increasingly important role in South Korean politics and economics, particularly in relation to North Korea.
For almost 20 years after the 1950-53 Korean War, relations between North and South Korea were minimal and very strained. Official contact did not occur until 1971, beginning with Red Cross contacts and family reunification projects. In the early 1990s, relations between the two countries improved with the 1991 “Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression and Exchanges and Cooperation between the South and the North,” since known as the “Basic Agreement,” which acknowledged that reunification was the goal of both governments, and the 1992 “Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” However, divergent positions on the process of reunification and North Korean weapons programs, compounded by South Korea's tumultuous domestic politics and the 1994 death of North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, contributed to a cycle of warming and cooling of relations.
Relations improved again following the 1997 election of Kim Dae-jung. His "Sunshine Policy" of engagement with the D.P.R.K. set the stage for the historic June 2000 inter-Korean summit between President Kim and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. President Kim was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for the policy, but the prize was somewhat tarnished by revelations of a $500 million dollar "payoff" to North Korea that immediately preceded the summit. Engagement continued during Roh Moo-hyun’s presidency, but declined following the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak in February 2008.
South Korea maintains close military, economic, and diplomatic relations with the United States, although at times those relations are strained by domestic opposition to the U.S. military presence on the peninsula. The United States and Korea are allied by the 1953 Mutual Defense Treaty.
As a result of the Korean War, the ROK had strong links with Western countries, especially the US, and competed with the DPRK for formal links with non-aligned states. However, from around the time of the Seoul Olympics in 1988, the ROK also pursued formal links with the Communist bloc under President Roh Tae-woo's 'Northern Policy'. After the Seoul Olympics, the ROK and Soviet Union established trade offices in each other's capitals and then established full diplomatic relations in September 1990. With the ROK's lack of resources and the undeveloped Soviet Far East, the two economies seem complementary but, owing to an accumulation of trade debts by the Soviet/Russian side, relations have only developed slowly. By the early 1990s, Seoul had established diplomatic relations with most of the members of the former Communist bloc. As the ROK's economy grew, it became more active in multilateral fora: joining the UN in 1991 (concurrent with DPRK) and OECD in 1997, and hosting the third Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in October 2000 and APEC Summit in 2005.
In recent years ROK has played a greater role on the international stage. At one stage it was the third largest contributor of troops to the coalition in Iraq and Korean forces also served in Afghanistan until recently, and have also participated in operations in East Timor, Lebanon and Nepal. Koreans are generally proud of the role that their soldiers are playing.
ROK had even developed thriving commercial relations with China. Commercial relations with China developed at a relatively early stage mainly because of easier communications but also because over 2 million ethnic Koreans are living there. Although it was the DPRK's closest ally, China established diplomatic relations with the ROK in August 1992 and commercial links between the two countries have continued to thrive. China has become the ROK’s largest trading partner and a major destination for ROK investment. Increased interest in China has also led to a rapid rise in the number of Korean children learning Chinese with it now being the second most widely studied foreign language, after English. President Lee wanted to strengthen ROK-China relations by holding regular Summit and held the first during his State Visit to China on 27-30 May 2008.
Korea and Japan coordinate closely on numerous issues. This includes consultations with the United States on North Korea policy. In spite of long-standing animosity to Japan during the 36-year occupation of the Korean Peninsula, economic and diplomatic relations between the two nations are increasingly close. Despite the normalisation of relations in 1965, links with Japan have remained strained because of memories of the colonial period and, until 1998, there were formal restrictions on Japanese exports to the ROK. Relations warmed after a visit to Tokyo by President Kim Dae-jung in October 1998 with the restrictions being steadily lifted.
But, when the ROK what it perceived to be a resurgence of Japanese nationalism in mid-2001, relations cooled again. ROK civic groups started to boycott links with Japan. The public also protested against, and called for a halt to Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine, which commemorates Japanese war dead, including some 'Class-A' war criminals from the Second World War. The two countries worked together to ensure the success of the World Cup, which took place in June 2002, and when President Roh Moo-hyun visited Japan in June 2003, it seemed that relations would continue to improve with a plan to celebrate 2005 as the Korea-Japan Friendship Year. But relations soured again following a number of Japanese actions, including Prime Minister Koizumi’s continued visits to Yasukuni, revisions of Japanese history textbooks that seemed to whitewash the severity of Japan's colonisation and a push by Japan of its claim to the Tokdo Islets. President Roh responded by refusing to hold regular Summit meetings with Prime Minister Koizumi although thesre was a Summit soon after Prime Minister Abe took office in Tokyo.
President Lee stated that he would focus on a forward-looking relationship with Japan, rather than the past, before taking up office. The then Prime Minister Fukuda attended his inauguration ceremony. The two leaders met immediately after this and agreed to resume regular Summits. President Lee followed up on this by visiting Tokyo on 20-21 April 2008 with the new Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso visiting Seoul on 11-12 January 2009.
South Korea is a member of numerous international organizations, including the African Development Bank, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Asian Development Bank, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Australia Group, Bank for International Settlements, Colombo Plan, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), International Chamber of Commerce, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, International Criminal Court, International Criminal Police Organization, International Development Association, International Energy Agency, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Finance Corporation, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Hydrographic Organization, International Labour Organization, International Maritime Organization, International Monetary Fund, International Olympic Committee, International Organization for Migration, International Organization for Standardization, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, International Telecommunication Union, Nonaligned Movement (guest), Nuclear Energy Agency, Nuclear Suppliers Group, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (partner), Organization of American States (observer), Permanent Court of Arbitration, United Nations, Universal Postal Union, World Confederation of Labor, World Customs Organization, World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, World Meteorological Organization, World Tourism Organization, World Trade Organization, and Zangger Committee.
The 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States is perhaps the most important of the treaties to which South Korea is a party. In addition, South Korea is a state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Joint Spent Fuel Management Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, and the Geneva Protocol. It is also a state party to the following antiterrorism conventions: Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection, Against the Taking of Hostages, Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed Onboard Aircraft, Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft, Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation, Protocol on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation, and Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents. It is a signatory to the antiterrorist conventions on Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and Suppression of Terrorist Bombings. South Korea is also a party to a number of environmental agreements: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, and Whaling.
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