South Korea as a middle power: a case study of South Korea-Asean relations

Çelik, Hatice
This thesis aims to understand how South Korea operationalized her middle power policies in her relations with ASEAN from a constructivist perspective. In this study, middle powerness is accepted as a state identity of South Korea since South Korean governments (beginning with 1991) are emphasizing and using the “middle power” concept to shape their foreign policy agenda. However, before analyzing the relations with ASEAN it is important to look at Korean foreign policy since the foundation of the country, although emphasis will be given to the post- Cold War governments due to the reason that middle power discourse was began to be used by those governments following the end of Cold War. By looking through the post-Cold War administrations, it will be tried to figure out how the middle power identity was constructed and how it constituted foreign policy agenda of South Korea. Secondly, as the case study of the dissertation; South Korea – ASEAN relations will be examined from the middle power framework based on a constructivist theoretical approach. The material change in the international system and the change in self-perception of South Korea with the end of Cold War structure directed South Korea to follow a more active role in international politics. This role shows itself in economic, political, and socio-cultural realms. Since ASEAN is almost a full scale representative of Southeast Asia, including a wide range of nations differing in terms of population, economic well-being, ethnicity, religion, and various state formations, it will provide a rich floor to understand South Korean foreign policy and its middle power identity oriented actions in one but a complex region. Considering the fact that ASEAN is the second biggest trade partner of South Korea after China, and ASEAN is getting the second most Foreign Direct Investment from South Korea, each actor is economically important for each other. Although the emphasis was started to be given to ASEAN during Lee Myung-bak administration starting in 2008, relations have developed deeply. This analysis argues that South Korea follows a low politics oriented pattern including economic, and socio-cultural issues concerning its relations with ASEAN using a combination bridge and culture-oriented role modes of middle power whereas tries to keep its distance in security and high-tension issues by applying a more realist oriented middle power pattern. In addition to that, South Korea’s this low politics pattern is not a result of realpolitik but a choice of her own middle power identity that tries to serve peace and prosperity in international politics.


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Citation Formats
H. Çelik, “South Korea as a middle power: a case study of South Korea-Asean relations,” Ph.D. - Doctoral Program, Middle East Technical University, 2017.