Must South Korea Choose Between the US and China?
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Must South Korea Choose Between the US and China?

9 March 2023


As the incipient Cold War between the U.S. and China slides toward a deep freeze, Washington is pushing its friends to choose. The People’s Republic of China, too, is challenging nations that seek to balance relations between Beijing and Washington.Perhaps no country is more uncomfortable than the Republic of Korea. American policymakers and advisors seeking to contain the PRC are unhappy with the slightest deviation from Washington’s will. For instance, Francis Fukuyama, who once insisted that history had ended, now believes that destiny leaves the ROK with no freedom of action: “A democracy like Korea cannot pretend that it is somehow in between the United States and China. It has to make the decision that it is going to be on the side of democracy.”Alas, things are not nearly so simple. After all, Washington is only kind of “for” democracy, and only sometimes—when the U.S. doesn’t have other important interests at stake. Moreover, it’s easy for an American intellectual, living well half a world away, to tell Asian nations to stand firm against their much larger neighbor. Contra Fukuyama’s apparent assumption, their chief responsibility is to their own people, not to Washington.

Published in
United States of America


Doug Bandow
Senior Fellow, Cato Institute