Korean Unification and the False Promise of Strategic Bargains with China

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China’s rising regional influence, North Korea’s intractable challenges to peace and stability, and a US president fond of ‘big deals’ and skeptical of overseas deployments in allied countries—these factors and others have intensified speculation about a strategic bargain regarding Korean unification. Washington would withdraw troops from South Korea, Beijing would end its support of the North Korean regime, and Seoul and Pyongyang would proceed with integration. This article finds that such strategic bargain proposals tend to suffer three major flaws: mistaken historical analogies with Cold War Europe, disregard for domestic political variables, and sacrifice of international norms while accommodating China. Washington pursuing a grand bargain with Beijing regarding Korea would deepen misperceptions in Asia, damage US alliances, and deny Seoul productive agency for transforming the security, economy, and diplomacy of the Korean peninsula.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)701-723
Number of pages23
JournalAsian Perspective
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Institute for Far Eastern Studies, Kyungnam University


  • Asia regional security
  • US alliances
  • denuclearization
  • domestic politics
  • foreign policy strategy
  • historical analogies
  • international norms


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