Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Research Student: Dr Gyubin Choi

The Evolution and Practice of Economic Statecraft in South Korea: The Case Study of South Korea’s Positive Engagement towards North Korea

Photo of Dr Gyubin Choi

This thesis aims to investigate the use of positive economic statecraft in South Korea in relation to its policy on North Korea between 1988 and 2007, and examines the impact of economic incentives on inter-Korean relations under the governments of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. To address the question of whether South Korea’s policy on North Korea could induce cooperation in inter-Korean relations and lead to changes in the political behaviour of North Korea, this thesis re-conceptualises the practice and process of the use of economic incentives as positive engagement.

This thesis argues that between 1998 and 2007 the impact of positive engagement on inter-Korean relations is corroborated by the changes made at the level of economic ties between the two Koreas. The thesis shows that Kim and Roh’s Sunshine Policy led to unprecedented personal exchanges and increased numbers of talks and agreements between the two Koreas. The effects of positive engagement and the resultant structure of asymmetrical interdependence between the two Koreas is expected to dissuade Pyongyang from conducting hostile behaviour, while providing the impetus for further structural changes within North Korea. However, this thesis demonstrates that the increased inter-Korean economic cooperation and North Korea’s subsequent economic dependence on South Korea falls far short of inducing North Korea’s reform and opening for transformation, and fails to dissuade it from carrying out nuclear or missile tests. This thesis argues that while it is correct that North Korea’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons programme imposes constraints on the dynamics of engagement, the determinants of positive engagement also stem from the nature of South Korea’s policy on North Korea itself and divergent forces derived from sanctions and incentives-oriented policy between the United States and South Korea.

This thesis is primarily based on qualitative case study, employing qualitative research methods such as intensive interviewing techniques and documentary analysis. However, to assess economic relations between the two Koreas, this thesis also uses descriptive statistics on inter-Korean economic cooperation. From a theoretical perspective, the wider significance of this study is that it clarifies the underlying logic and course by which positive economic statecraft works in international relations, and suggests that the concept and framework of positive engagement is helpful when South Korea devises a strategy for dealing with North Korea.

© Copyright Leeds 2016