How South Korea Can Contribute to the Defense of Taiwan

October 24, 2022

Aerial view of Taiwan and text "The Washington Quarterly, Vol 45 Issue 3, Fall 2022"Compared to alliances like Japan and Australia, which seek to counter potential Chinese aggression, the role of South Korea is often secondary. Particularly with President Yoon’s new government in place, what can South Korea do to support U.S.-led efforts to compete with China, and what are the major hurdles in attaining deeper bilateral cooperation to enhance deterrence over Taiwan? 

To answer this question, the authors build upon traditional concepts of balancing to create a more granular, operationally relevant set of strategies for South Korea. They argue that, while it is politically infeasible for South Korea to fight side-by-side with US forces against China in a Taiwan scenario or to attempt to build its military sufficiently to deter the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from aggression against Taipei, these classic external and internal balancing strategies are not South Korea’s only options.

In this article, they provide background on South Korea’s approach to the Taiwan issue to date; evaluate South Korea’s strategic importance and what it can theoretically bring to the table; and explore how China and North Korea may respond to increased South Korean cooperation with the US, along with the potential obstacles this cooperation could create. Lastly, they recommend ways to leverage the US–South Korean alliance to enhance deterrence against China with respect to Taiwan.