September 29, 2014
The Strategic Meaning of China-ROK Relations: How Far Will the Rapprochement Go and with What Implications?

by Jonathan D. Pollack

The growing ties between China and the Republic of Korea are among the most consequential changes in East Asian politics, economics, and security of the past several decades. From modest beginnings in 1992 when Beijing formally accepted the reality of two Koreas rather than one, China and the ROK have built an increasingly diversified and interactive relationship, now described by both leaderships as pursuit of "a matured strategic cooperative partnership." By numerous measures –meetings between senior officials, trade and investment, social, cultural, and educational exchanges, and high levels of public support in both countries—relations have progressed to levels unimaginable only a few years ago. The personal connection between President Xi Jinping and President Park Geun-hye evident during their state visits to each other's capitals in 2013 and 2014 further attests to this forward momentum.

Will the growth of China-ROK relations entail larger strategic consequences, as distinct from the broad management of overlapping economic and political interests? Are there inherent limitations under conditions of a still divided peninsula, or do the two leaderships attach intrinsic value to their mutual ties both before and after unification? At a time when China's relations with many regional neighbors are badly frayed and in several cases could prove confrontational, Beijing's rapprochement with Seoul is a conspicuous exception. How congruent are the interests and expectations of both countries? What will determine the scope and scale of longer term ties, and what are the possible challenges to the durability and scope of relations?

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