Alliance First and Mutual Respect: Yoon’s Foreign Policy Approach on China and the United States


Over his first 200 days as president, Yoon Suk-yeol has toed a narrow path of tilting toward the United States without arousing retribution from China. His predecessors tempered their claims to be bolstering the alliance with Washington with overtures to Beijing drawing considerable skepticism (e.g., Park Geun-hye’s “honeymoon” coddling of Xi Jinping and Moon Jae-in’s “three no’s” assurances). Park eventually crossed a “red line” for China by agreeing to the THAAD deployment, but Moon avoided similar retribution even if China often registered discomfort with his policies, such as diplomacy with North Korea and the United States bypassing China. Yoon is living dangerously by, month by month, testing the limits of China’s patience, even as he proclaims “mutual respect” to be the centerpiece of his approach.

In May, days after taking office, Yoon hosted President Joe Biden and agreed to a US-ROK joint statement more provocative, in Chinese eyes, than Moon’s joint statement with Biden a year earlier.1 In June, Yoon attended the NATO summit, bolstering ties with European states as they not only rallied against Russian aggression but warned against China’s behavior.2 In August, the foreign ministers of South Korea and China met, only to have Wang Yi warn Park Jin of some lines Seoul must not cross. In September, at the UN General Assembly, Yoon firmly advocated for universal norms.3 Then, in October, Seoul was put on the spot over a host of US-announced export controls over semi-conductors, promising to impede ROK-Chinese high-tech transactions.4 And in November in the shadow of the East Asian Summit Yoon joined with Biden and Kishida to give new momentum to US-Japan-Korea trilateralism against longstanding Chinese warnings.5 Each month, Yoon extended his tilt toward Washington. At each point, concerns were raised in Beijing.6 Yet, Yoon’s appeals for “mutual respect” never faded.

Not every decision Yoon made during his first six months was viewed as tilting to the US side, however. When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited Seoul immediately following her visit to Taiwan, against which China decided on a show of force, Yoon’s decision not to meet her was seen as a snub and deemed by many conservative politicians in Seoul and foreign policy experts as a “mistake.”7 One former US State Department official even said this incidence was “insulting to the United States.”8 While this single event does not define Yoon’s foreign policy, it suggests that his current approach towards China is still in transition.9

One clear trend is that Yoon’s policy actions during his first six months epitomize an “alliance first” policy, which has been helped by the Biden administration’s quick outreach and Yoon’s support for the Indo-Pacific Strategy. It is within this context of a closer relationship between Seoul and Washington that we must consider Sino-Korea relations. Every public statement coming out of China suggests that the new CCP leadership will do as much as it can to discourage South Korea from taking sides in the Sino-US competition.10 So far, however, such warnings are largely being brushed aside even as Yoon seeks cooperation. Yoon’s ability to maintain this position, however, is likely to become more challenging11 as tension continues to build between Beijing and Washington.12 Many observers in Seoul are left wondering if Yoon could avoid a Chinese backlash in the year 2023, the 70th anniversary of the ROK-US alliance.

Yoon’s Alliance First Policy

Tracing Yoon’s foreign policy platform back to the election, we see a consistent thread that places the US-ROK alliance first.13 In a statement released in March 2022, then-candidate Yoon pledged to “rebuild the combined defense posture” and “strengthen comprehensive strategic alliance” between South Korea and the United States. He also emphasized the importance of “liberal democratic values” and promised to expand cooperation in “emerging technologies, global supply chains, space, cybersecurity, and nuclear power.”14 Finally, he agreed to pursue cooperation among like-minded countries in the region, including the Quad. Unlike his predecessor, Yoon has not been shy about his preference for a strong US-ROK alliance.

While President Moon Jae-in more fully acknowledged the importance of South Korea’s relationship with the United States towards the end of his term, it was mainly within the context of engagement with North Korea that he saw value in South Korea’s ties to the United States.15 Hence, much of Seoul’s agenda towards Washington for the better part of Moon’s term was dominated by his preoccupation with strengthening inter-Korean relations. This was helped by President Donald Trump, who was intrigued by the idea of striking a deal with Kim Jung-un.

The impact on US-ROK relations from 2017 was undeniable. The combined defense posture of the United States in and around the Korean Peninsula had deteriorated16 and the North Korean human rights issue had been marginalized, if not all but ignored.17 There was a noticeable bump in bilateral relations arising from Trump’s insistence on greater financial contribution from South Korea for the USFK and renegotiation of the KORUS FTA.18 Although the alliance stayed firm, the relationship hit a nadir not seen since the Bush-Roh era.19

Once elected to office, President Biden moved swiftly to repair the damage by engaging the outgoing Moon administration and incoming Yoon administration through a series of high-level meetings.20 Reviews of the joint summit statements in May 2021 and 2022 suggest that the two sides had established the necessary groundwork to restore the alliance defense posture and readiness while renewing credibility and confidence in the bilateral relationship.

Perhaps the most noticeable pivot in South Korea’s posture as it relates to China is on the issue of the Indo-Pacific. While the 2021 Joint Statement recognizes both countries’ support for “maintaining an inclusive free and open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP), it explicitly differentiates the US “vision for a FOIP” and Moon’s “New Southern Policy.” This type of distinction is absent in the 2022 Joint Statement. Instead, what we see is Yoon’s wholesale support for the US Indo-Pacific Strategy and the commitment to participate in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). Although Yoon’s pledge to “formulate ROK’s own Indo-Pacific strategy framework” signals that there will be differences from the US strategy, there appears to be a closer alignment in conceptual vision and thinking about issues of critical importance in the region. The series of follow-up meetings, including the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group Meeting (EDSCG) in September21 and the US-Japan-ROK trilateral meeting in the lead-up to the G-20,22 offered encouraging signs of tighter relations between Seoul and Washington.

Mutual Respect?

Yoon’s alliance first orientation would suggest that South Korea’s bilateral ties with China would be challenged. This is even more so now given the clarity of statements issued by the United States in its recently released National Security Strategy23 and National Defense Strategy,24 which identify China as “the most consequential competitor” to the United States. Washington’s stated approach for addressing this challenge is to “build the strongest possible coalition of nations,” and, as seen in recent diplomatic engagements between the United States and South Korea, Seoul is actively taking part in the US-led initiatives in the Indo-Pacific.

To his credit, Yoon has stated that he is not bound by his predecessor’s “three-nos” policy, which once committed South Korea to no additional deployment of an advanced US missile defense system, no participation in the US missile defense network, and no membership in a trilateral military alliance with Washington and Tokyo. China has made clear its insistence on the removal of the THAAD battery from the Korean Peninsula, even going so far as to use economic pressure against South Korean companies operating in the PRC as a way to retaliate against the ROK government’s decision.25 In a September interview with The New York Times, however, Yoon stated that THAAD deployment was a “matter of sovereignty and security, which is not subject to any compromise.”26

Although Yoon has thus far exercised more caution in making public statements about the possibility of military cooperation with Japan, South Korea has moved to reinstate the first trilateral naval exercise in five years during September and October. Seoul has also committed to pursue a 2+2+2 diplomatic-economic security ministerial meeting with Japan and the US. The US-Japan-Korea trilateral meeting in Phnom Penh yielded far-reaching results, creating considerable impetus for joint endeavors planned in 2023.

The Phnom Penh statement not only reiterated the denunciation of North Korea but also emphasized the US mutual defense commitment as well as the trilateral commitment to stand against Russian aggression in Ukraine and promote freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific. Most notable was the commitment to support the status quo in the Taiwan Strait and encourage cooperation in Southeast Asia. Broader understanding was reached among three leaders on the commitment to stand together to promote a rules-based economic order and an IPEF “based on principles of openness, transparency, and inclusiveness.”27

Taken together, these developments suggest significant headwinds for Sino-ROK relations. Yoon, however, has tried to reach out to Beijing after his predecessor’s limited success in restoring Sino-Korean cooperation since South Korea’s decision to continue with the THAAD deployment in August 2017. The Moon administration’s laser focus on inter-Korean affairs coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to widening the gap between Beijing and Seoul. Before his presidential election victory, however, Yoon expressed his preference for expanding and deepening cooperation with China on the economy, public health, environment, and cultural exchange. He also stated that he wanted to revive high-level talks, including the 2+2 strategic dialogue. Finally, Yoon advocated for the reinstatement of a hotline between Seoul and Beijing as a confidence building measure. The principled basis for this policy orientation is the concept of “mutual respect.”28

“Mutual respect” as expressed by Yoon refers to “South Korea not opposing China’s Belt and Road Initiative and working with Beijing in trade and commerce, [while] China… accepting, rather than opposing, South Korea’s cooperative system with its allies.”29 In a letter to Xi to commemorate the 30th anniversary of normalized relations in late August, Yoon called for more high-level exchanges and strengthened cooperation in “supply chains, national security, environment and climate change.”30 Such a limited way of marking an important milestone is emblematic of how far Yoon has still to go to achieve these and other goals for better ties between Seoul and Beijing.

In his congratulatory letter to Yoon, Xi also echoed the importance of mutual respect stating that the two countries must “(1) [follow] the trend of the times and [enrich] bilateral ties continuously; (2) accommodate each other’s core interests and major concerns and enhance understanding and trust through sincere communication; (3) adhere to cooperation and win-win outcomes, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation… and mutual learning; (4) [and favor] openness and inclusiveness… to safeguard regional peace and stability, promote regional integrated development and preserve basic norms governing international relations.”31 Perhaps the most notable element in this discussion is the point about “core interests and major concerns.” Historically, China’s “core interests and major concerns,” as defined by high ranking officials since 2003 and Dai Bingguo in his closing remarks at the 2009 US-China Strategic Economic Dialogue, meant that China “must uphold our basic systems, our national security; and secondly, the sovereignty and territorial integrity; and thirdly, economic and social sustained development.”32 Over time, the principle of respecting these core interests has often been invoked to single out China’s claims over Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong, and even the disputed islands of the South China Sea. The problem for Beijing is that the US-ROK joint statements in 2021 and 2022 both explicitly reaffirm South Korean and the US commitment to uphold “freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea” as well as “the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

There are hints of similar gaps in understanding about the bilateral relationship in subsequent meetings between China and South Korea. Take, for instance, the ministerial level meeting between Wang Yi and Park Jin in August. According to the Chinese readout, Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated “the five-point commitment” to independence free of external interference; to upholding good neighborliness and friendship while accommodating each other’s major concerns; to openness and win-win cooperation, and stable and unimpeded industrial and supply chains; to equality, mutual respect, and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, and to multilateralism and the principles of the UN Charter.33

Interestingly, there is no mention of Wang Yi’s five-point commitments in the Korean read-out,34 which emphasized better communication and cooperation at regional and global levels, which means revitalizing track 1.5 dialogues, various types of vice-ministerial meetings, and a proper summit with state-level visits. Supply chains, trade, climate change, and the environment were also mentioned as potential areas of cooperation, along with people-to-people as well as cultural exchanges. The South Korean side reiterated the importance of cooperation on North Korean denuclearization as well as revitalization of the Korea-China-Japan trilateral dialogue. It is worth noting that the Chinese readout did not mention any of these other issues.

The appearance of similar gaps was also noticeable in the most recent 25-minute meeting between Yoon and Xi in Bali on the sidelines of the G20. The Korean readout indicates that Yoon started off by emphasizing the “pursuit of freedom, peace and prosperity of the international community based on common values and norms.”35 He also noted the threat posed by North Korea and urged Xi to “play a more active and constructive role.” It is not at all surprising that the Chinese readout did not mention any of these talking points.36 Instead, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted the “need to enhance alignment of development strategies and work for common development and prosperity.” Xi also highlighted the value of cooperation on trade, high tech manufacturing, big data, green economy, and supply chain. The importance of cultural and people-to-people exchanges was mentioned as well. Absent from the Chinese side was any mention of values or North Korea.

For a relationship to be built on “mutual respect,” it is reasonable to expect Seoul and Beijing to reach some common understanding about each other’s strategic priorities; however, we see little to no consensus. For Yoon, North Korea and cooperation in pursuit of freedom, peace, and prosperity under common values and norms are important priorities. For Xi, cooperation on trade, technology, and supply chains under aligned development strategies are valued but only under the condition that both sides accommodate each other’s “core interests free of external influence.” As Yoon continues to tighten his cooperation with the US while China maintains its current position, it will become more difficult for Beijing and Seoul to resolve this impasse.

Yoon’s Team

Yoon’s approach towards China and the United States is perhaps best reflected in the personnel he has chosen for key leadership posts on national security and foreign policy which shows a good mix of academics and bureaucrats with strong connections to the two previous conservative administrations. The current national security adviser and his deputy, for instance, held university positions in between serving in the Lee Myung-bak administration as vice foreign minister and presidential secretary for national security, respectively. A quick survey of scholarly works by the current national security adviser, Kim Sung-han, suggests a strong background in regional security affairs and the US-ROK alliance.37 Kim Tae-hyo’s writings suggest interest in Korea Peninsular security, Korea’s role on the global stage, and values.38 The current ambassadors to Japan (Yun Duk-min)39 and China (Chung Jae-ho)40 are seasoned experts in their respective fields with strong academic backgrounds as well.

Standing alongside this group are seasoned technocrats, such as the vice ministers for foreign affairs (Cho Hyun-dong) and defense (Shin Beom-chul) as well as the current ambassador to the United States (Cho Tae-yong). Some of these individuals also have a track record in the National Assembly, including Ambassador Cho Tae-yong and Foreign Minister Park Jin.41 Keeping with the South Korean tradition for the top seat in the ministry of national defense, Lee Jong-sup has a military background as a former lieutenant general in the ROK Army.

Yoon’s national security and foreign policy team appears to be a good mix of leading thinkers and policy leaders in the conservative circle with depth of experience. Expertise stands out in comparison to any previous administration. Prior to taking office, Yoon dispatched a delegation to Washington including Cho Tae-yong and Chung Jae-ho as well as Park Cheol-hee, whom many regard as Seoul’s leading expert on ROK-Japan relations. This left an indelible image of expertise guiding policy decisions on China and Japan, informed by close awareness of policy making in Washington.

The past two conservative South Korean administrations favored a more “balanced” approach for managing relations with the US and China. Lee Myung-bak, for instance, broke from his predecessor Roh Moo-hyun’s policy of leaning towards Beijing with what some observers called “twin hedging” or “deep engagement with soft balancing.”42 Park Geun-hye was noted for her trustpolitik and strategic ambiguity, for three years wooing Xi Jinping.43 While some observers note that Yoon is signaling a shift away from a policy of ambiguity to one of clarity, this legacy of past conservative administrations could prove resilient.

Three Realities

Regardless of individual policy preferences, the South Korean administration will have to contend with at least three realities that it will not be able to easily wish away. One is the strong South Korean public consensus about China. Almost all recent public opinion polls show that the public is clear in its disapproval of China and the Chinese leadership.44 In the Korea Institute for National Unification’s public opinion poll released in October 2021, for instance, less than a third of the South Korean public agreed with the statement that China respects the history, culture, and politics of other countries, individual freedom, or free market principles. Nearly 3 in 4 South Koreans stated that “South Korea should actively respond to China’s economic retaliation,” and nearly 1 in 2 believed that “South Korea has the ability to withstand China’s economic pressure.”45

Given Beijing’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy and economic coercion against South Korean companies for Seoul’s decision to deploy the THAAD missile defense system in 2017, it is not surprising that the South Korean public opinion on China has turned sour in recent years. The Chinese government’s handling of the COVID crisis46 and continued claims of cultural misappropriation47 did not help. The Chinese leadership’s inability to engage constructively with South Korean officials due to its zero COVID policy further solidified negative sentiments.
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So long as public attitudes remain negative on China, Beijing will have difficulty convincing the South Korean leadership to openly support China’s interests when it conflicts with those of South Korea and/or its allies. The lesson learned by South Korean progressives and the Moon administration during the COVID crisis was an important one. Kowtowing to Beijing by sending medical equipment and masks during the early onset of the pandemic led to a fierce backlash by the South Korean public, which became angry over the lack of personal protective equipment in South Korea.48 Beijing should be worried. The negative South Korean public sentiment about China has the potential to affect issues linked to China’s core interests, such as Taiwan. In the 2021 KINU poll, for instance, nearly 51% of the South Korean public agreed that South Korea should “join efforts to prevent China if it tries to annex Taiwan by force.”49

The second reality that any administration in Seoul must contend with is North Korea. While different parties in power may choose to manage the North Korean threat in different ways, South Korea along with Japan and the United States are likely to respond through means that would go against Beijing’s interests if North Korea continues to strengthen its nuclear capability. Take, for instance, the recent statement by Biden during his meeting with Xi on the sidelines of G20, where he reminded the Chinese leader that the US “would have to take certain actions that would be more defensive… to send a clear message to North Korea” if Pyongyang carries out a seventh nuclear test. Recent overtures by Pyongyang towards Beijing and Xi’s positive response could further entrench Japan, South Korea, and the United States to shore up their deterrence posture against Beijing’s interests in the region.50

Finally, there is the reality of history on the Korean Peninsula. The simple fact is that South Korea maintains a Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States, which explicitly states in Article II that if “either of the Parties is threatened by external armed attack… the Parties will maintain and develop appropriate means to deter armed attack and… take suitable measures.” This treaty was the foundation for South Korea’s national security and economic development after the Korean War. And it is also the basis for strong alliance relations epitomized by South Korea’s active participation in wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Even though South Korea has seen its share of anti-American sentiments in the past, public support for basing over 28,000 US forces in South Korea remains high.

It is also important to recognize that while China normalized diplomatic relations with South Korea in 1992, the history of Sino-Korean relations is fraught with conflict;51 some notable incidences blamed on China include the Yuan incursion during the 13th century, the Qing invasion in the 17th century, and the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army participation in the Korean War. While China claims that it maintains no formal alliances, it recently reaffirmed the Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty with North Korea, which explicitly states in Article II that North Korea and China will “adopt all measures to prevent aggression against either of the Contracting Parties by any state” and that “in the event of one of the Contracting Parties… being involved in a state of war, the other Contracting Party shall immediately render military and other assistance by all means at its disposal.”52  


More than six months after inauguration, there are diverging assessments of Yoon Suk-yeol’s foreign policy with respect to China and the United States. There are those who give Yoon much credit for his accomplishments on strengthening South Korea’s relationship with the United States and the western world.53 There is also much criticism about his approach on managing South Korea’s approach to Russia and China.54

To be fair to Yoon, the lack of clarity in South Korea’s position with respect to Russia and China was a problem that plagued his predecessors as well.55 Neither Park’s Eurasia/Northeast Asian Peace and Cooperation Initiatives nor Moon’s New Southern/Northern Policies have adequately addressed the growing gap between the United States, China, and Russia as well as South Korea’s place in between these great powers. However, Yoon has committed to a closer relationship that prioritizes the alliance. While he may wish to maintain good working relations with China, the historical and structural realities of the geopolitical landscape in the Indo-Pacific would make this challenging. At the same time, economic interdependence between South Korea and China is a reality that cannot be ignored, but the lesson from Ukraine shows that there are limits to what democratic nations like South Korea will tolerate with respect to national security and sovereignty. Having said this, South Korea’s choice may appear unclear and even awkward at times, but the fact is, Yoon has chosen to walk the uneasy path of combining policies that place the alliance first while maintaining a mutually respectful relationship with China. Beijing may try to test Seoul’s resolve, but history suggests that pressure and strongarm diplomacy will only galvanize South Korea public support away from Beijing and closer towards the United States.

1. “US-ROK Leaders’ Joint Statement,” May 21, 2021,; “United States-Republic of Korea Leaders’ Joint Statement,” May 21, 2022,

2. Madrid Summit Declaration, June 29, 2022,; “President Yoon Suk-yeol’s participation in Madrid NATO Summit,” Brussels School of Governance, July 1, 2022,

3. Scott Snyder, “Solidarity in Support of Freedom: South Korean President Yoon’s UN Speech,” Council on Foreign Relations, September 28, 2022,

4. “Implementation of Additional Export Controls: Certain Advanced Computing and Semiconductor Manufacturing Items; Supercomputer and Semiconductor End User List Modification,” Bureau of Industry and Security, Department of Commerce, Federal Register, October 13, 2022,; “Korean chipmakers not imperiled by new US rules on China,” JoongAng Daily, October 9, 2022,

5. The White House, “Phnom Penh Statement on US-Japan-Republic of Korea Trilateral Partnership for the Indo-Pacific,” November 13, 2022,

6. “싱하이밍 대사 ‘한, 중서 분리는 곧 기회로부터의 분리’,” 동아일보, July 7, 2022,; “中이 韓에 고압적인 건 초조하고 불안하고 조급한 탓,” 신동아, December 4, 2022,; “’한중 30년의 산 증인’ 싱하이밍 주한 중국대사 인터뷰 질문,” MBC, August 25, 2022,

7. S. Nathan Park, “South Korea’s Presidential Snub of Pelosi was an Unforced Blunder,” Foreign Policy, August 5, 2022,; “Yoon should have met Pelosi,” Joongang Ilbo. August 9, 2022,

8. “[워싱턴 톡] 미중갈등 촉발한 펠로시 타이완 방문…미국 ‘핵심 동맹’ 한국 역할은?” VOA, Youtube Video,

9. Kim Heung-kyu, “The China Policy of the Yoon Government and South Korea-China Relations.” International Journal of Korean Unification Studies, 31(1), 2002: 65-83,

10. Dong Xiangrong, “China’s Dilemma on the Korean Peninsula,” The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis. 25(2), 2013: pp. 243-55, ; “South Korea Must Stay Neutral in Standoff,” Bangkok Post, May 29, 2021,

11. 김예경. “수교 30주년 한중관계의 미래: 윤석열 정부 대중정책의 쟁점과 시사점,” Issues and Perspectives. National Assembly Research Service, No. 1975, August 4, 2022,; 정재흥. “윤석열 정부의 대중국 정책,” 도전과과제, No. 19, April 4, 2022,; 박병광, “윤석열 대통령 당선인의 대중정책 방향과 새로운 한중관계,” Issue Brief, INSS, No. 337, March 22, 2022,

12. Archie W. Simpson, “Realism, Small States and Neutrality,” in Davide Orsi, J. R. Avgustin, and Max Nurnus, eds., Realism in Practice: An Appraisal (E-International Relations, 2018; Daniel A. Austin. “Realism, Institutions, and Neutrality: Constraining Conflict Through the Force of Norms,” Commonwealth: A Journal of Political Science, 9, 1998, pp. 37-56.

13. “Yoon Suk Yeol’s Foreign and Security Policy: Confident Diplomacy and Strong National Security,” NK News, March 14, 2022,; “윤석열정부 110대 국정과제,” 제20대 대통령직인수위원회, May 2022,  


15. Eun A Jo, “Double Allegiance: Moon Jae-in’s Strategy amid US-China Rivalry,” The Asan Forum, November-December 2020,; “South Korea: Background and U.S. Relations,” Congressional Research Service, July 21, 2022,

16. Yoon Sukjoon, “Security and Defense Issues Facing South Korea’s Next President,” The Diplomat, March 3, 2022,

17. “Hearing on North Korea Policy One Year After Hanoi,” U.S. Senate Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific and International Cybersecurity Policy,” February 25, 2020,–%20North%20Korea%20Policy%20–%20One%20Year%20After%20Hanoi.pdf; “Letter to President Moon Jae-In Re: UN Human Rights Council’s 2022 resolution on the situation of human rights in North Korea to be adopted at the 49th session,” Human Rights Watch, March 24, 2022,

18. Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year, 2021 (New York: PenguinRandomHouse, July 2021).

19. Seung-Ho Joo, “South Korea-US Relations in Turbulent Waters,” Pacific Focus. 21(1), 2006: 59-104,; Richard C. Bush, “Searching for a Strategy: The Bush-Roh Summit,” Brookings Institution, September 1, 2006,; Jeffrey Robertson, “The Anti-American Blowback from Bush’s Korea Policy,” Foreign Policy in Focus, January 1, 2003,  

20. The White House, “US-ROK Leaders’ Joint Statement,” May 21, 2021,; The White House, “United States-Republic of Korea Leaders’ Joint Statement,” May 21, 2022,

21. US Department of State, “Joint Statement on the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group Meeting,” September 16, 2022,

22. The White House, “Phnom Penh Statement on US-Japan-Republic of Korea Trilateral Partnership for the Indo-Pacific,” November 13, 2022,

23. The White House, “National Security Strategy,” October 2022, 2022.

24. US Department of Defense, “National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (Including the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review and the 2022 Missile Defense Review),” October 2022,

25. Darren J. Lim, “Chinese Economic Coercion during the THAAD Dispute,” The Asan Forum. November-December 2019,

26. Choe Sang-Hun, “New South Korean President Tries to Make His Mark on Foreign Policy,” The New York Times, September 18, 2022,

27. Substantive progress in Korea-Japan relations is likely to be slowed only until late 2023 due to the fact that the South Korean general election is scheduled for April 2024. Historically, Korea-Japan relations have been hindered by the politicization of Japan-related issues during Korean election cycles. 

28. See “Yoon Suk Yeol’s Foreign and Security Policy.”

29. Yoon Suk-yeol, “South Korea Needs to Step Up,” Foreign Affairs, February 8, 2022,

30. Office of the President, Republic of Korea, “Presidents Yoon, Xi mark diplomatic milestone via letters,”

31. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, “Xi Jinping Exchanges Congratulatory Letters with ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol on the 30th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between China and ROK,”, emphasis added.

32. Caitlin Campbell, Ethan Meick, Kimberly Hsu, and Craig Murray, “China’s ‘Core Interests’ and the East China Sea,” US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Staff Research Backgrounder, May 10, 2013,





37. The survey of literary works by all authors were conducted using Web of Science and Google Scholar Search. The list cited for reference purposes is not exhaustive but is representative of the authors mentioned in this section. Kim Sung-han, “Searching for a Northeast Asian Peace and Security Mechanism,” Asian Perspective, 32(4), 2008:127-56; Kim Sung-han, 2015, “Korea’s Middle Power Diplomacy: How Is It Pursued in the G20 Framework?” in Jongryn Mo, ed., MIKTA, Middle Powers and New Dynamics of Global Governance: The G20’s Evolving Agenda (New York: Palgrave Pivot, 2015) 98-101; Kim Sung-han, “US Policy toward the Korean Peninsula and ROK-US Relations,” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, 9, 1997: 35-58; Kim Sung-han, “Global Korea: Broadening Korea’s Diplomatic Horizons,” Korea Chair Platform, CSIS, July 21, 2012.; Kim Sung-han and Geun Lee, “When security met politics: desecuritization of North Korean threats by South Korea’s Kim Dae-jung government,” International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, 11(1). 2010: 25-55; Kim Sung-han and Scott A. Snyder, “Denuclearizing North Korea: Time for Plan B,” The Washington Quarterly, 42(4), 2019: 75-90; Kim Sung-han, “From blood alliance to strategic alliance: Korea’s evolving strategic thought toward the United States,” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, 22(3), 2010: 265-81; Kim Sung-han and Alex Soohoon Lee, “The Neoconservative Approach to North Korea: Its Prospects under the next US Administration,” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, 27(4), 2015: 435-52; Kim Sung-han and Kim Sanghoon, “China’s contestation of the liberal international order,” Pacific Review, April 15, 2022. 

38. Kim Tae-hyo and Brad Glosserman, The Future of US-Korea-Japan Relations: Balancing Values and Interests, (Washington, DC: The CSIS Press: Washington, DC, 2004); Kim Tae-hyo & Woosang Kim, “A Candle in the Wind: Korean Perceptions of ROK-US Security Relations,” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, 16(1), 2009: 99-118. Kim Tae-hyo, “Missile Test… or Test of the Six Party Talks?” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, 18(3), 2006:71-88; Kim Tae-hyo, “Korea’s strategic thoughts toward Japan: searching for a democratic alliance in the past-driven future,” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, 20(2), 2008:141-54. Kim Tae-hyo and Bernard Rowan, “The Rise and Fall of the South Korea’s 586 Generation: Implications for the US Alliance,” The Washington Quarterly, 45(2), 2022:23-38; Kim Tae-hyo “Game Changer: North Korea under the Obama-Lee Partnership and Beyond,” Korea Observer, 44(2), 2013:289-314; Kim Tae-hyo, “Caught between alliance and brotherhood: South Korea’s approach to the six party talks,” Journal of Asia and African Studies, 42, 2007:283-96; Kim Tae-hyo, “Japan and Korea: Why Can’t they Reconcile?” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, 29(2), 2017: 271-86.

39. Yun Duk-min and Choi Wooseon, “Breaking the North Korean Nuclear Deadlock: a Global Action Plan,” Washington Quarterly, 37(3), 2014:215-27; Yun Suk-min, “Korean Diplomacy under a ‘Perfect Storm’: Smart Network Diplomacy,” IFANS FOCUS, March 24, 2017; Yun Duk-min, “Envisaging Future of ROK-US Alliance,” Policy Brief, IFANS, December 2004.

40. Chung Jae-ho, Between Ally and Partner: Korea-China Relations and the United States (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007); Chung Jae-ho, 2000, Central Control and Local Discretion in China: Leadership and Implementation During Post-Mao Decollectivization,(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Chung Jae-ho, China’s Crisis Management (London: Routledge, 2011); Chung Jae-ho, Peter TY Cheung, and Zhimin Lin, Provincial Strategies of Economic Reform in Post-Mao China: Leadership, Politics, and Implementation (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe: 1998); Chung Jae-ho, “Is South Korea in China’s orbit? Assessing Seoul’s perceptions and policies,” Asia Policy, 21, 2016:123-46; Chung Jae-ho, “China’s Evolving Views of the Korean-American Alliance, 1953-2012,” Journal of Contemporary China. 23, 2014: 425-42; Chung Jae-ho, “The Rise of China and East Asia: A New Regional Order on the Horizon?” Chinese Political Science Review. 1, 2016:47-59; Chung Jae-ho, “South Korea between Eagle and Dragon: Perceptual Ambivalence and Strategic Dilemma,” Asian Survey, 41(5), 2001:777-96.

41. Park Jin, “Korea Between the United States and China: How Does Hedging Work?” in Gilbert Rozman, ed., Joint US-Korea Academic Studies. Facing Reality in East Asia: Tough Decisions om Competition and Cooperation (Washington, DC: Korean Economic Institute, February 26, 2016),

42. Han Suk Hee, “From Engagement to Hedging: South Korea’s New China Policy,” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, 20(4), 2008: 335-51; Scott Snyder, “Lee Myung-bak Era: Mixed Picture for China Relations,” Comparative Connections,10(1), April 2008,

43. Ho-Jin Lee, “Missile defense and South Korea: President Park’s strategic ambiguity is warranted,” OP-ED, The Brookings Institution, March 27, 2015,; Jaeho Hwang, “The ROK’s China Policy under Park Geun-hye: A New Model of ROK-PRC Relations,” Report, The Brookings Institution, August 2014,

44. J. James Kim, Kang Chungku, and Ham Geon Hee, “South Korean Public Opinion on ROK-US Bilateral Ties,” Asan Report, May 31, 2022,; J. James Kim, Kang Chungku, and Ham Geon Hee, “Fundamentals of South Korean Public Opinion on Foreign Policy and National Security,” Asan Report, September 13, 2021,

45. “통일의식조사 2021: 미중갈등의 인식,” KINU, October 2021. 

46. Yun Sun, “China’s ‘Wolf Warrior’ Diplomacy in the COVID-19 Crisis,” The Asan Forum. March 15, 2020,

47. Min Joo Kim & Lily Kuo, “Olympics inflame deep rift between China and South Korea,” The Washington Post, February 18, 2022,

48. Morten Soendergaard Larsen, “South Korea’s President Tried to Help China Contain the Coronavirus. Now People Want Him Impeached,” Foreign Policy, March 9, 2020,

49. “통일의식조사 2021: 미중갈등의 인식,” KINU, October 2021. 

50. Rachel Minyoung Lee, “The Real Significance of North Korea’s Recent Military Activities.” 38North, November 2, 2022,; “China’s Xi, in message to North Korea’s Kim, says willing to work together for regional, global stability – KCNA,” Reuters, November 26, 2022,

51. Heung-Kyu Kim notes that throughout history, Korea has been invaded by outside forces 931 times. China was the primary perpetrator during 438 of those incidences. Heung-Kyu Kim. “South Korea’s Strategic Dilemma Amid US-China Competition,” Policy Memo, Stimson Center, February 28, 2022.

52. “Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance Between the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” July 11, 1961,

53. Sue Mi Terry, “Yoon’s Strong Start in Foreign Policy,” Foreign Policy, August 18, 2022,

54. According to a survey conducted by Gallup Korea in November 1~3, 2022, 61% of the surveyed public stated that the Yoon administration was “not doing a good job” in foreign policy. 48% was also negative on the administration’s handling of North Korea. 61% also thought that personnel appointment choice was poor. “정부 출범 6개월 분야별 정책 평가,” 데일리오피니언, Gallup Korea, 518, November 3, 2022,

55. Lee Seong-Hyon, “THAAD bad: Seoul-Beijing relations under Moon,” East Asia Forum, November 18, 2022,

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