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China’s Yellow Sea strategy has received less scholarly and policy attention than its approaches to the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the Indian Ocean. However, China has significant economic and strategic reasons to prioritize its presence in these waters, including ongoing sovereignty disputes with the Republic of Korea (ROK). Chinese military exercises in the Yellow Sea have increased in recent years, with gray-zone activities playing a distant, secondary role to traditional military exercises. Moreover, China’s propaganda approach has been relatively limited and moderate, and thus there is still time to shape Beijing’s thinking and approach to these waters.

Policy Implications

  • While Chinese maritime ambitions are arguably more limited in the Yellow Sea than the South and East China Seas, China’s expanding military capabilities and subsequent uptick in military activity demand a greater policy focus there.
  • The U.S. should pursue a proactive hedging strategy toward China in the Yellow Sea. This could entail seeking cooperation with Beijing to address shared security threats, like North Korean WMD proliferation, while also preparing to respond strongly if China’s ambitions change or if it begins a more extensive coercive campaign for exclusive control of these waters.
  • The U.S.-ROK alliance should adapt to China’s increasing activities in the Yellow Sea by increasing joint monitoring, contingency planning, and consultations about the degree to which the alliance covers the protection of ROK forces, aircraft, and civilian vessels operating in the sea.
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China, the Republic of Korea, and the Yellow Sea

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Oriana Skylar Mastro
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Gi-Wook Shin
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This essay originally appeared in Korean on January 3 in Sindonga (New East Asia), Korea’s oldest monthly magazine (established 1931), as part of a monthly column, "Shin’s Reflections on Korea." Translated by Raymond Ha. A PDF version of this essay is also available to download


 

Kanwal Rekhi is regarded as a pioneer of the Indian diaspora in Silicon Valley. After studying at IIT Bombay, Rekhi completed his graduate studies at Michigan Tech and moved to San Jose in 1982, where he co-founded Excelan. The company went public on Nasdaq in 1987. It was the first time that immigrants from India had created a company and succeeded in listing it on a U.S. stock exchange.[1]

Since having found success as an entrepreneur, Rekhi has sought to give back to the diaspora community and his home country. In 1992, he co-founded The IndUS Entrepreneurs (TiE), a non-profit that supports Indian entrepreneurs seeking to create startups. Rekhi explained to me that “there were many young Indians who wanted to start businesses, but they lacked the know-how and the networks.” TiE was intended to fill that gap. Rekhi also made a sizable donation to his alma mater, and he has advised the Indian government on policy issues. Moreover, he has supported the work of various universities in the United States, including Stanford.

The Story of India’s Diaspora

Rekhi belonged to the first generation of Indian immigrants to establish a foothold in Silicon Valley. Countless others, including Google CEO Sundar Pichai, have since followed in his footsteps. Upon graduating from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), these individuals pursued further studies in the United States, where they successfully created startups or climbed the ladder to become C-level executives at major companies. They also maintain and cultivate close ties with their home country. Indian immigrants have been integral to Silicon Valley’s explosive growth, and they are now also contributing to India’s rise as a major economic power. India has now overtaken the United Kingdom, its former colonial ruler, with the fifth-largest GDP in the world.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Indian diaspora now has greater influence and impact in Silicon Valley than the Chinese diaspora.
Gi-Wook Shin

The Indian diaspora has made its presence felt beyond the economic sector. Numerous graduates of the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) practice medicine in the United States, and renowned scholars of Indian heritage serve on the faculty of elite American universities. For instance, Stanford selected Dr. Arun Majumdar to serve as the inaugural dean of the Doerr School of Sustainability, which opened its doors in the fall of 2022. Majumdar completed his undergraduate studies at IIT Bombay and obtained his PhD from UC Berkeley in 1989. His career has spanned the public and private sectors, and he now spearheads Stanford’s first new school in 70 years—an ambitious effort to “tackle urgent climate and sustainability challenges facing people and ecosystems worldwide.”[2] It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Indian diaspora now has greater influence and impact in Silicon Valley than the Chinese diaspora.

Moreover, India plays a central role in Washington’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, which has become the focal point of American foreign policy. New Delhi was the leader of the non-aligned movement during the Cold War, but it is now building closer ties with liberal democracies around the world. Unlike China, India is not locked in a strategic competition with the West. High English proficiency among Indians also facilitates relations and exchanges at all levels. It is also worth noting that there are now influential politicians of Indian heritage in major countries, including Kamala Harris in the United States and Rishi Sunak in the United Kingdom. India prides itself on being the most populous democracy in the world, and its stature in the international community is only likely to grow in the coming decades.

Despite these developments, Korean public sentiment toward India is largely negative. There is broad awareness of the legacy of historical figures like Mahatma Gandhi and cultural achievements such as the Taj Mahal. However, many Koreans still perceive India as a poor and chaotic country with rigid and obsolete customs, including the caste system. There are substantial cultural, social, and historical differences between Korea and India, but it is time for Korea to cast aside any prejudices and take a clear-eyed view of India. It is encouraging to see the Yoon Suk-Yeol administration stress in its recently announced Indo-Pacific Strategy that Korea “will advance [its] special strategic partnership with India, a leading regional partner with shared values.” The document also rightly notes the importance of “enhanced economic cooperation” between the two countries.[3]

[India’s] overseas diaspora also plays a unique role in catalyzing economic growth. Korea should learn from the successes of India’s diaspora and build closer ties with such networks.
Gi-Wook Shin

In this context, it is especially vital for Korea to pay attention to the rise of the Indian diaspora in the United States and beyond. They are a force to be reckoned with in the global market. Unlike the state-driven development models of East Asia, India has pursued a market-driven policy since liberalizing its economy in 1991. The country’s overseas diaspora also plays a unique role in catalyzing economic growth. Korea should learn from the successes of India’s diaspora and build closer ties with such networks.

The Rise of Japan, China, and India

Japan was the undisputed leader of the Asia-Pacific in the 1980s, and China has taken on this mantle since the dawn of the 21st century. As China closes its doors amidst its intensifying strategic competition with the United States, India is emerging as the new regional leader. A close examination of the rise of these three countries reveals crucial differences. The contributions of the overseas diaspora to economic development, as noted above, are a distinguishing factor.

Let us begin with Japan. Relying on a well-educated workforce and meticulous training within companies, Japan built upon proprietary technology from the West to achieve incremental innovation. Sony’s worldwide success in consumer electronics, for example, can be attributed to sophisticated engineering and attention to detail in product design, not to significant advancements in the underlying technologies. Furthermore, Japan took great advantage of short-term overseas training programs to learn and utilize advanced technologies to further its own economy. This strategy enabled Japan to increase its economic heft without suffering a “brain drain,” to the point of challenging U.S. dominance over the global economy in the 1980s. There were, however, disputes with the United States over intellectual property rights (IPR).

Throughout this process, Japan’s diaspora did not play a visible role. Many Japanese abroad had already assimilated into their countries of residence, and the few that contributed only provided low-skilled labor. Japanese Americans, for example, have largely assimilated into American society despite the traumatic experience of forced internment during World War II. Contact with their home country was fairly limited. Some Japanese immigrants who settled in South America later returned to Japan, but most of these returnees were low-skilled laborers. After experiencing hardships and discrimination, however, they went back to South America once again after the 2008 global financial crisis.

China took a different path. The Chinese diaspora has a long history centered on Southeast Asia, and its role in enabling China’s reform and opening by providing much-needed capital is well known. In the 1980s, China adopted an “open door” policy and enabled large numbers of students to study abroad. It also proactively pursued a policy of “brain circulation” by inviting these students to return to China and contribute their talents to the country’s development. No country has sent more students abroad than China. With rapid economic growth in the 2000s, over 80% of these students returned. These individuals are called haigui (sea turtles) in China.[4] In Beijing’s Zhongguancun, China’s Silicon Valley, there are a plethora of programs and facilities tailored to haigui. They have not only spearheaded China’s technological innovation, but also made important contributions to the economy, scientific research, and higher education.

China’s pursuit of “brain circulation” has seen some success, but it also created friction with the United States. After studying and gaining work experience in the United States, Chinese talent returned home and directed their know-how toward accelerating China’s rise. However, U.S. authorities began to suspect that China’s talent policy was being misused for industrial espionage, especially in advanced technologies. For example, the Pentagon stated in 2018 that China’s Thousand Talents Program was a “toolkit for foreign technology acquisition.” U.S. intelligence officials added that the program was “a key part of multi-pronged efforts to transfer, replicate and eventually overtake U.S. military and commercial technology.”[5]

India has taken yet another path, although it resembles China’s experience in some respects. Like China, India experienced an enormous brain drain. It is second only to China in the number of overseas students. In terms of highly skilled emigration, it has seen the largest outflow of any country. Unlike Chinese talent, Indian immigrants tended to settle down in host countries, where they have built successful careers. During the 1980s, over a third (37.5%) of IIT Bombay graduates went abroad, and 82% of these individuals stayed abroad.[6] Between 2004 and 2016, 30% of grantees in Optional Practical Training (OPT), a temporary employment visa for F-1 students in the United States, were students from India.[7] Many of these students arrived in America after receiving a rigorous education in STEM or medicine in India. Their native fluency in English is also an important asset. Since India itself is extremely diverse in terms of religion, ethnicity, and culture, prior experience with diverse settings also gives Indian students an advantage for studying and living in America.

Indian talent… abroad… create “brain linkages” through extensive interaction with their home country. They bring young talent from India to overseas universities and companies, support start-up entrepreneurs in India, and connect global companies to India's…high-quality workforce
Gi-Wook Shin

Even if Indian talent mostly stays abroad, they create “brain linkages” through extensive interaction with their home country. They bring young talent from India to overseas universities and companies, support start-up entrepreneurs in India, and connect global companies to India’s low-cost, high-quality workforce.

Immigrants from India make up the bulk of H-1B visa recipients in the United States. In fiscal year 2021, 74% consisted of Indian nationals.[8] Unicorn companies formed with diaspora support are appearing left and right in Bangalore, the hub for India’s high-tech industry. The total investment in Bangalore’s tech sector has jumped from $550 million in 2010 to $2 billion in 2017, spread across 6,000 start-ups.[9] This amount is projected to reach $30 billion by 2025.[10] Furthermore, unlike China, India is not currently engaged in disputes with the United States or other major economies over talent policy or IPR in advanced technologies.

Modi’s Visit to Silicon Valley

In 2015, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to a crowd of 20,000 at the Shark Tank in San Jose. Many in the diaspora community gathered for the occasion. Modi asserted that “what looks like brain drain is actually a brain deposit.”[11] He also met with leaders of the Indian diaspora during his visit, including Sundar Pichai (Google) and Satya Nadella (Microsoft), and secured support for the government’s “Digital India” initiative.[12] Naren Gupta, a member of India’s diaspora and the co-founder of Nexus Venture Partners, played an instrumental role in planning the visit. Modi’s tour of Silicon Valley encapsulated the power and influence of the Indian diaspora in America. It also revealed the strength of the brain linkages that the community had built with its home country.

The Indian diaspora is a force to be reckoned with in Silicon Valley. Of all engineering and tech start-ups formed in America by immigrants between 2006 and 2012, 33.2% were created by individuals of Indian origin.[13]This exceeds the total number of companies created by entrepreneurs from China, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Israel, Russia, and Korea combined. Indian immigrants are also filling executive-level positions in major American IT companies. Those of Indian origin make up “just about 1% of the U.S. population and 6% of Silicon Valley’s workforce.”[14] However, they have an outsized impact. Immigrants from India to the United States tend to be highly educated, with over 70% possessing at least a bachelor’s degree.[15] This is markedly higher than the corresponding proportion for the U.S. population, which reached 37.9% in 2021.[16] Various factors help explain the Indian diaspora’s success in the United States: high levels of technical competence, a robust professional network, and strong communication skills based on native English fluency and familiarity with Western culture.

Moreover, Indian immigrants are very much willing to acquire citizenship in their host countries. In recent years, the number of Indian nationals who acquired U.S. citizenship through naturalization has been almost twice the number of Chinese nationals who were naturalized.[17] Indians reportedly do not have qualms about renouncing their Indian citizenship. Modi’s 2015 speech in San Jose, referenced above, clearly reflects how those in India view the overseas diaspora. Regardless of one’s citizenship or place of residence, there is a prevailing mentality of “once an Indian, always an Indian.” Leaders in India’s modern history, including Nehru and Gandhi, were also members of the diaspora. The tightly knit diaspora community gives rise to robust and mutually supportive professional networks, which helps elevate the presence of Indian immigrants in host countries. This is certainly the case in the United States.

Unlike China, India does not have a government-led policy to attract talent. Nevertheless, members of the overseas diaspora can temporarily return to India and engage in various activities with relative ease. There are also institutions that facilitate such endeavors. One is the legal status of “non-resident Indians” that is given to Indians who reside overseas for over 183 days in a given year. This status accords short-term diaspora visitors with legal and economic rights similar to that of resident citizens.

Since 2003, the Indian government has also officially recognized Non-Resident Indian Day (Pravasi Bharatiya Divas) on January 9, which commemorates the day of Gandhi’s return from South Africa to Mumbai in 1915. To mark the occasion, the Indian government presents an award to individuals in the diaspora community who have made significant achievements in their respective fields. Past recipients include Satya Nadella and Kalpana Chawla, an Indian American astronaut who posthumously received the award as the first person of Indian origin to go to space. By taking such steps, the Indian government promotes and strengthens solidarity between India and its diaspora, no matter where its members reside.

The New Argonauts

Members of the Indian diaspora are actively building ties to their home country. In 2021, they sent $87 billion in remittances to India. China’s diaspora came second with $53 billion.[18] This includes money earned by Indian immigrants in the United States, China, and other countries. Overseas Indians in the business sector not only invest in start-ups and real estate in India, but also give policy recommendations to their home government and provide support for higher education. They also organized charity fundraisers to assist COVID-19 response and recovery efforts, responding to the devastation that the pandemic wreaked across the country. According to my own analysis, 42% of 97 major Indian diaspora organizations in the United States maintain close ties with India. As a whole, they are even more active than Chinese diaspora organizations.

The IndUS Entrepreneurs (TiE), founded in Silicon Valley, is one of the best examples. It was established in 1992 with the goal of facilitating networking between entrepreneurs from South Asia, providing mentoring for the next generation, and incubating and investing in start-ups. As of 2020, TiE had 61 branches across 14 countries, with 20 offices in the United States and 23 in India, and boasted a membership of 15,000. To date, it has supported around 10,000 start-ups founded by entrepreneurs of Indian origin. The total valuation of these start-ups is approximately $200 billion. With offices in Mumbai, Bangalore, and Chennai, TiE has acted as a conduit for successful Indian businesspeople in Silicon Valley to interact with their home country. These individuals emphasized the importance of entrepreneurship to youth in India. They acted as role models, mentors, and investors at a time when there was little support to be found elsewhere. TiE continues to serve as a vital link between Silicon Valley and India.

The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), founded in 1982, plays an essential role in creating brain linkages in the field of medicine. AAPI has 80,000 doctors and 40,000 students, residents, and fellows as members. It fosters closer ties between its members and pursues opportunities for cooperation with Indian medical schools. Since 2007, it has hosted an annual global healthcare summit in India. AAPI also operates 19 clinics across India and established a charitable foundation to provide medical relief. During the height of COVID-19, AAPI sent medical supplies and held various activities to help India overcome the pandemic. It is said that those in the diaspora community view such actions as a responsibility, not just as a charitable activity.

Furthermore, the Indian diaspora is heavily engaged in supporting higher education back home. Consider IIT Kharagpur, which opened its doors in 1951. Vinod Gupta graduated from this school, found success in the United States, and helped launch the Vinod Gupta School of Management at his alma mater in 1993. Arjun Malhotra, another IIT Kharagpur graduate, was involved in the creation of the G. S. Sanyal School of Telecommunications and the M. N. Faruqui Innovation Centre. In another example, leaders from the diaspora community joined forces in 2014 to establish Ashoka University, a private school modeled after American liberal arts colleges, a rarity in a higher education landscape dominated by public universities. Ashok Trivedi, one of the school’s founders, earned his bachelor’s and master’s at the University of Delhi before pursuing an MBA at Ohio University and subsequently co-founding IGATE, an IT services company. As these cases illustrate, leaders in the Indian diaspora community donate to their alma maters and even create new schools altogether. They also facilitate academic exchanges between prominent U.S. and Indian universities, including student exchange programs.

AnnaLee Saxenian, a professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, has referred to these immigrant entrepreneurs who maintain ties with their home country after building successful careers overseas as the “new argonauts.” Just like the Argonauts of Greek mythology who set sail across the Mediterranean in search of the Golden Fleece, these individuals have crossed oceans aboard their own Argo to seek success in the 21st century. Kanwal Rekhi emphasized to me that “the diaspora led India’s independence movement in the past, but now it is playing an important role for India’s economy.”

India lags far behind China in… national power, [but] has a much younger population and its rate of economic growth will likely exceed China’s for the foreseeable future. India is the only country [whose] supply of highly skilled labor in the tech sector exceeds domestic demand.
Gi-Wook Shin

Will India Surpass China?

In a previous essay in this series, I argued that “China will not surpass the United States in our time.”[19] We could ask, in a similar fashion, whether India could overtake China in the future. While there are significant challenges on the road ahead, India could become a formidable competitor for China if current trends continue. At present, India lags far behind China in terms of overall national power. India has a much younger population, however, and its rate of economic growth will likely exceed China’s for the foreseeable future. India is the only country where the supply of highly skilled labor in the technology sector exceeds domestic demand. In addition to IITs and AIIMS, there are excellent engineering and medical schools across all regions of India. These institutions are an important source of talent for the global economy.

China is gradually closing its doors as the Sino-U.S. competition intensifies. In terms of its economy and trade relations, it is at risk of falling into a quagmire similar to Japan’s “Two Lost Decades.” Beijing must also contend with strong anti-China sentiment, especially among developed countries, and it must overcome the challenges that come with diplomatic isolation. India does not face the same geopolitical risks. As one of the four corners of the Quad, New Delhi is pursuing a foreign policy that includes various forms of cooperation with countries across the Indo-Pacific region in both economic and security issues. At the same time, the power and influence of the Indian diaspora only continues to grow. In an October 2022 op-ed on the subject, Tyler Cowen notes that Rishi Sunak is only one example of a much wider phenomenon. “It is now impossible to deny what has been evident for some while,” he says. “Indian talent is revolutionizing the Western world far more than had been expected 10 or 15 years ago.”[20]

To be sure, India faces a complex set of challenges at home. Poverty remains widespread, along with ethnic and religious conflicts. The Modi government has taken an authoritarian turn in its pursuit of Hindu nationalism, and there are serious governance challenges associated with corruption in both government and the private sector. Ajantha Subramanian, a professor of anthropology at Harvard, has pointed out that successful members of the Indian diaspora in Silicon Valley largely come from the upper castes. Some criticize these individuals for amplifying caste-based inequality overseas through their exclusive professional networks in ways that are no longer as prevalent in India. While accounting for such criticism and taking an honest look at India’s domestic issues, it would also be unwise for Korea to discount the importance of India and its diaspora in the coming decades.

To Become Asia’s Small Giant

A few years ago, I gave a lecture on Korea’s development at a leading university in New Delhi. I was deeply impressed by the passion and enthusiasm of the students who came to listen. There is growing interest in India about the story of Korea’s remarkable economic development, as well as K-pop and Korean dramas. Unfortunately, this has not always been reciprocated. In 2017, a bar in Itaewon, an area of Seoul famous for its multicultural atmosphere, drew controversy when it denied entry to a student from India.[21] In 2009, in another incident, an Indian research professor and a female Korean companion were harassed by a fellow bus passenger.[22] Such inexcusable acts of discrimination are ultimately rooted in prejudices and negative stereotypes about India in Korea.

Building closer ties with India is a foreign policy imperative under the Yoon administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, but high-level policies alone will not be enough. It is vital for civil society to enhance mutual understanding by strengthening… people-to-people ties.
Gi-Wook Shin

I once had the opportunity to speak to Indian engineers who work in Korea. They told me that while they enjoyed working for Korean companies such as Samsung or SK, prejudice among Koreans toward India often made life difficult.[23] Building closer ties with India is a foreign policy imperative under the Yoon administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, but high-level policies alone will not be enough. It is vital for civil society to enhance mutual understanding between Korea and India by expanding cultural exchanges and strengthening people-to-people ties. The private sector also has an important role to play, as they can augment efforts by government-run Korean cultural centers and public entities such as the Korea Foundation.[24]

Indian talent could play an important role in Korea’s economic future. Korea will soon face significant labor shortages due to “a crisis on three fronts: a plummeting birth rate, an aging population, and a serious brain drain.”[25]On the other hand, India has a relatively young population and a large, highly skilled workforce. According to one estimate, “India is projected to have a skilled-labour surplus of around 245.3 million workers by 2030.”[26] There is also a natural synergy between the two economies. India excels in software, whereas Korea’s strength lies in hardware. If China provided opportunities for Korean manufacturers to export intermediate goods, India could provide the talent that Korea’s economy will increasingly rely on in the coming years.

Cowen argues that “India is by far the world’s most significant source of undiscovered and undervalued talent.” Anyone who is concerned about “the future of their own nation” in today’s world, he adds, “really should be focusing on India.”[27] Korea would do well to heed his advice.

While seeking ways to strengthen cooperation with India, Korea should also strive to build closer ties with the Indian diaspora and its networks. East Asian countries, including Korea, adopted a state-centered model of economic development. India took a different path, and its overseas diaspora has played a unique role in driving India’s economic growth. The ever-increasing influence of India’s new argonauts extends beyond Silicon Valley. Australia and Germany have sought to attract Indian talents and draw on their professional networks. The same goes for countries in the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates. Korea could form closer partnerships with the extensive global networks of India’s diaspora community as it seeks to attract Indian talent and pursue new economic opportunities.

During the Cold War, Korea looked east toward the United States and Japan. As the Iron Curtain fell in the 1980s, Korea pursued Nordpolitik by normalizing ties with Moscow and Beijing. It is now time for Korea to look south. Even as Southeast Asia grows in importance, Korea must keep its eyes fixed on India. If Korea aims to become Asia’s small giant in this turbulent era, it would be wise for Seoul to use prevailing geopolitical currents to its favor.


[1]This essay draws on ongoing research by the author, which will be published in an upcoming book tentatively titled Talent Giants in the Asia-Pacific Century: A Comparative Analysis of Japan, Australia, China, and India.

[2] Amy Adams and Anneke Cole, “Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, University’s First New School in 70 Years, Will Accelerate Solutions to Global Climate Crisis,” Stanford University, May 4, 2022, https://news.stanford.edu/2022/05/04/stanford-doerr-school-sustainability-universitys-first-new-school-70-years-will-accelerate-solutions-global-climate-crisis/.

[3] Republic of Korea Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Strategy for a Free, Peaceful, and Prosperous Indo-Pacific Region, December 28, 2022, 17, https://www.mofa.go.kr/eng/brd/m_5676/view.do?seq=322133.

[4] The terms “sea turtle” () and “return from overseas” () are homophones for each other.

[5] Anthony Capaccio, “U.S. Faces ‘Unprecedented Threat’ from China on Tech Takeover,” Bloomberg, June 22, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-22/china-s-thousand-talents-called-key-in-seizing-u-s-expertise.

[6] S. P. Sukhatme and I. Mahadevan, Pilot Study on Magnitude and Nature of the Brain-Drain of Graduates of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (Bombay: Indian Institute of Technology, 1987).

[7] Neil G. Ruiz and Abby Budiman, “Number of Foreign College Students Staying and Working in U.S. After Graduation Surges,” Pew Research Center, May 10, 2018, https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2018/05/10/number-of-foreign-college-students-staying-and-working-in-u-s-after-graduation-surges/.

[8] Lubna Kably, “Indians Bagged 3.01 Lakh H-1B Visas During Fiscal 2021–74% of the Total,” Times of India, April 14, 2022, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/indians-bagged-3-01-lakh-h-1b-visas-during-fiscal-2021-74-of-the-total/articleshow/90845244.cms.

[9] Indian Tech Start-Up Ecosystem: Approaching Escape Velocity (Noida: NASSCOM-Zinnov, 2018), 6; Manish Singh, “Indian Tech Startups Raised a Record$14.5B in 2019,” TechCrunch, December 30, 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/12/29/indian-tech-startups-funding-amount-2019/.

[10] “HNIs to Invest $30 Billion in Indian Tech Startups By 2025: Report,” Economic Times, June 17, 2021, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/startups/hnis-to-invest-30-billion-in-indian-tech-startups-by-2025-report/articleshow/83607846.cms.

[11] “Narendra Modi’s Speech at the Shark Tank, Silicon Valley As It Happened,” Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2015, https://www.wsj.com/articles/BL-IRTB-30506.

[12] Chidanand Rajghatta, “Silicon Valley Stars Sign on to PM Modi’s ‘Digital India’ Vision,” Times of India, September 27, 2015, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tech-news/silicon-valley-stars-sign-on-to-pm-modis-digital-india-vision/articleshow/49129060.cms.

[13] Vivek Wadhwa, AnnaLee Saxenian, and F. Daniel Siciliano, Then and Now: America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Part VII (Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, 2012), 3, https://www.kauffman.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Then_and_now_americas_new_immigrant_entrepreneurs.pdf.

[14] Nikhil Inamdar and Aparna Alluri, “Parag Agrawal: Why Indian-born CEOs dominate Silicon Valley,” BBC News, December 4, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-59457015.

[15] Jens Manuel Krogstad and Jynnah Radford, “Education Levels of U.S. Immigrants Are on the Rise,” Pew Research Center, September 14, 2018, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/09/14/education-levels-of-u-s-immigrants-are-on-the-rise/.

[16] United States Census Bureau, “Census Bureau Releases New Education Attainment Data,” February 24, 2022, https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2022/educational-attainment.html.

[17] U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2020 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, 2022), 53–54, https://www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics/yearbook/2020.

[18] “With $87 Billion, India Top Remittance Recipient in 2021: UN Report,” Economic Times, July 20, 2022, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/nri/invest/with-87-billion-india-top-remittance-recipient-in-2021-un-report/articleshow/93012012.cms.

[19] Gi-Wook Shin, “Walking a Tightrope,” Shorenstein APARC, November 16, 2022, https://aparc.fsi.stanford.edu/korea/news/walking-tightrope.

[20] Tyler Cowen, “Rishi Sunak Shows the Growing Influence of Indian Talent in the West,” Bloomberg, October 28, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2022-10-28/rishi-sunak-shows-growing-influence-of-indian-talent-in-west.

[21] Ock Hyun-ju, “Itaewon Bar Accused of Discriminating Against Indian,” Korean Herald, June 7, 2017, https://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20170607000796.

[22] Park Si-soo, “Indian Accuses Korean of Racial Discrimination,” Korea Times, August 3, 2009, http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2009/08/117_49537.html; Paul Kerry and Matthew Lamers, “Setting a Precedent on Racism,” Korea Herald, March 30, 2010, https://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20091106000044.

[23] Gi-Wook Shin and Joon Nak Choi, Global Talent: Skilled Labor as Social Capital in Korea (Stanford University Press, 2015).

[24] For more information about the Korea Foundation, see the organization’s “About Us” page at https://www.kf.or.kr/kfEng/cm/cntnts/cntntsView2.do?mi=2126.

[25] Gi-Wook Shin, “Demographic Headwinds,” Shorenstein APARC, December 15, 2022, https://aparc.fsi.stanford.edu/news/demographic-headwinds.

[26] “India to Have Talent Surplus of 245 Million Workers by 2030: Study,” Economic Times, May 7, 2018, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/indicators/india-to-have-talent-surplus-of-245-million-workers-by-2030-study/articleshow/64064096.cms.

[27] Cowen, “Rishi Sunak Shows the Growing Influence of Indian Talent in the West.”

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South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks on the government supplementary budget at the National Assembly on May 16, 2022 in Seoul.
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Beyond Representation: How Diversity Can Unleash Korea’s Innovation

A social and corporate culture that values and enforces conformity surely cannot be a wellspring of creativity and innovation. Korean society must find a new source of vitality. Enhancing diversity to stimulate innovation and change could be the answer.
Beyond Representation: How Diversity Can Unleash Korea’s Innovation
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Opportunities for Korea-India Relations

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Kim Namseok, Munhwa Ilbo Correspondent
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This article originally appeared in the Korean daily newspaper Munhwa Ilbo on January 2, 2023. It was translated from Korean by Raymond Ha.

In an exclusive interview for the Munhwa Ilbo, Stanford University professors Gi-Wook Shin and Francis Fukuyama had a conversation on a wide range of topics including the war in Ukraine, U.S.-China competition, and North Korea policy.

The world faces a crisis of political leadership as each country pursues its own interests. Fukuyama stressed the importance of robust international institutions, instead of relying solely on great leaders. He pointed to NATO and the U.S.-Korea alliance as examples of institutions that uphold the liberal international order. In terms of the U.S.-China competition, he said without hesitation that “a democracy like Korea…has to make the decision that it is going to be on the side of democracy.” Fukuyama also noted that in the event of an armed confrontation over Taiwan, Korea would almost certainly be pulled in, given the significant U.S. military presence there. He was skeptical about prospects for progress over North Korea, pointing to the long history of failed negotiations and the lack of viable alternatives. “Not every problem has a solution,” he said.

Gi-Wook Shin, who led the interview, observed that the global decline of democracy appears to have hit a turning point, “although it’s too early to say if there will be a rapid recovery…or a more gradual shift.” As for the state of democracy in the United States, he said, “We will have to wait and see what happens in the 2024 presidential election.” Even though Trump’s political influence may be weaker, he observed, “pro-Trump forces are still part of the system.” In terms of Korea’s foreign policy, Shin emphasized that Seoul “should take [the Taiwan] problem much more seriously.” A crisis in the Taiwan Strait “could become the biggest challenge for the Yoon administration’s foreign policy, not North Korea,” and domestic polarization over China policy is one issue that could threaten to “become extremely controversial.”

The interview was held in-person for one hour at Stanford on December 8, 2022, with a follow-up interview held over the phone on December 27.  


[Gi-Wook Shin] Let’s start by looking back on 2022. How would you summarize this year?

[Francis Fukuyama] I think 2022 was a very good year, where we may have bottomed out in this global move away from democracy and toward authoritarian government. The year really started out in February with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which looked very, very threatening. China was on a roll. It looked like they were beating everybody in terms of COVID policy. Then, by the end of the year, the Russians got completely bogged down. China experienced mass protests, and there were protests also in Iran. In America’s elections on November 8, all the pro-Trump forces failed to make gains and, in fact, lost almost everywhere. I think that maybe we will look back on 2022 as the year when this democratic recession that has been going on for over 15 years finally bottomed out.

[GWS] I agree, although it’s too early to say if there will be a rapid recovery toward democracy or a more gradual shift. In the United States, we will have to wait and see what happens in the 2024 presidential election. Former President Trump may be weaker politically, but pro-Trump forces are still part of the system. As for the Ukraine war, many people thought Russia would win quite easily, but now it looks like they are struggling. It’s a big question, of course, but how do you think the war will be remembered in history?

[FF] I think that it is going to be remembered as one of the biggest strategic mistakes made by a great-power leader in a very long time. I think that the mistake is directly due to the nature of the political system. You remember that Vladimir Putin was sitting at the end of this 25-foot table with his defense minister because he was so afraid of COVID. He was extremely isolated during the whole pandemic, and he had already isolated himself in a political system where he doesn’t face checks and balances. That kind of decision-making system makes you prone to make even bigger mistakes, because you don’t have other people to test your ideas against. He was completely uninformed about the degree to which Ukraine had developed a separate national identity and that the Ukrainian people were willing to fight for it. He didn’t have any idea how incompetent his own army was. If he had been in a more democratic country that required him to share power with other people, I don’t think he could have made that kind of mistake.

 

The most important thing is the breakdown of the Chinese economic model. For the past decade, the Chinese model has been to pump a huge amount of money into the real estate sector. That model is collapsing. The other big problem is that they don’t have economic growth anymore.
Francis Fukuyama

[GWS] Putin is struggling, as you said. There are a lot of problems in China, but Xi Jinping secured a third term. Authoritarian leaders elsewhere still hold power. By contrast, I don’t think President Biden has shown powerful leadership at home or globally. I don’t see any strong political leaders in the U.K., France, or Germany either.

[FF] I think that although Xi Jinping may succeed in stabilizing the situation in China with the protests over COVID in the short run, he is in a lot of trouble. He was creating all this social instability with the zero-COVID policy. Now that they’ve started to relax it, I think the number of cases and deaths is going to go up very dramatically, but I don’t think they’ve got much of a choice. I think this has probably damaged the people’s sense of Xi’s authority and legitimacy, and I’m not sure he can recover from that.

The most important thing is the breakdown of the Chinese economic model. For the past decade, the Chinese model has been to pump a huge amount of money into the real estate sector. That model is collapsing. The other big problem is that they don’t have economic growth anymore. Some economists think that they’re actually in a recession, with negative growth. This is like what Japan went through in the 1990s. So much of the Chinese government’s legitimacy has been based on having extremely high growth rates, and that period is over. I don’t see how they get it back, and they certainly won’t by inserting the state into every economic decision and controlling their high-tech sector. Their population is shrinking now. I’m not sure that Xi Jinping, in the longer run, is actually going to look like a very effective leader.

[GWS] But in the short term, say the next three to five years, won’t authoritarian leaders be powerful in comparison? Just as “America First” shows, some say there is a crisis of political leadership among Western democracies, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.

[FF] I think that apart from President Zelenskyy in Ukraine, we don’t see any really inspiring leaders in Germany or France or the United States. On the other hand, the nice thing about democracy is that it’s an institutional system for managing change. Biden has turned 80, and Trump himself is in his upper 70s. The leadership in Congress and the Democratic Party are all elderly, but they’re all about to change. In the next election cycle, there is going to be a whole new generation of people that are up-and-coming. I don’t think you need a charismatic leader with great vision, necessarily, to run any of the countries you mentioned.

[GWS] Another question is if the United States can provide global leadership. When Trump was defeated, there was a strong expectation for the Biden administration to restore global order and to do much better than its predecessor. I’m not sure whether that’s happening.

[FF] Again, I think that’s why you want to have international institutions rather than being dependent simply on leaders. This gives an institutional basis for continuity in policy. There are all of these alliance structures, like NATO. People thought that NATO was obsolete and was going to go away. It has actually proved to be very durable. The United States has security ties with Korea and Japan that also are quite old, but they’re still durable. It’s interesting that the authoritarian countries have not been able to create anything comparable to that set of alliances. There is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), but all the Central Asian states don’t want to be part of this China-Russia dominated organization. We can’t just depend on great leadership.

Korea should proactively participate in upholding and creating an international order that facilitates a resurgence of democracy. Korea has not really played this role before, but with the 10th largest economy in the world, it is now in a position to play a positive role.
Gi-Wook Shin

[GWS] To add on to that, I think Korea should proactively participate in upholding and creating an international order that facilitates a resurgence of democracy. Korea has not really played this role before, but with the 10th largest economy in the world, it is now in a position to play a positive role.

[FF] There is a set of values that underpin America’s alliances, both in Asia and Europe. Throughout the whole Cold War, the Soviet Union never actually invaded a Western democracy, but that’s what Russia did. NATO has suddenly become very relevant once more. I think that both in Korea and Japan, there is also recognition of a comparable challenge from an authoritarian China. Unless all democracies work together and show solidarity with one another, they could be picked off by these two authoritarian powers.

[GWS] There is a lot of debate about whether China is going to invade Taiwan or not. I have a two-part question. First, could the situation in Ukraine reduce the possibility of China invading Taiwan? Second, if China still invades nevertheless, what should Korea do? This is a difficult question for Korea. It cannot say no to the United States as a military ally, but at the same time, it cannot antagonize China. I think this is the most difficult question for Korea at the moment.

[FF] This is a difficult question for the United States because it’s not clear that Congress or the American people actually want to go to war with China in order to save Taiwan. I think if you ask them a polling question stated like that, probably a majority would say, “No, we’re not going to send our troops to die.” But I think it’s likely that the United States will get dragged into such a conflict one way or the other. Among other things, the Chinese would probably have to preempt some of the American forces that are in the theater. American military personnel will get killed as the Chinese attack unfolds, and I think there will be a lot of political pressure to help Taiwan.

[GWS] How much can the United States be involved? Some in Korea are skeptical that Washington will step in.

[FF] This is really the problem. During the Cold War, we had a good idea of what a war would like look like if it actually happened. The military planning was very concretely designed against certain types of escalation. With China, we don’t have a clear set of expectations for what escalation would look like. It could just start with a Chinese invasion. It could start with a blockade. It could start with something in the South China Sea. It could actually start on the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea doing something. If it happens, it’s going to be much more devastating than the war in Ukraine. So much of global production comes out of Asia, and there’s a strong incentive not to let things get out of hand. Whether we have the wisdom to do that is not clear. I also think that people’s expectations and opinions will change once the conflict begins. The moment people see cities being bombed, they will change their minds.

Francis Fukuyama conversing in Gi-Wook Shin's office at Stanford University.
Francis Fukuyama. Kim Namseok/Munhwa Ilbo

[GWS] I also think that a conflict over Taiwan would affect the American people more directly than what is happening in Ukraine. What’s your view on how seriously Korea should be taking this possibility?

[FF] It is likely enough that it is absolutely important for everyone to take it seriously and plan against it. What you want to do is deter China from taking any military action against Taiwan. They’re not going to be deterred unless they see that there’s a response on the other side that is going to raise the cost for them. That’s not going to happen unless people take the scenarios seriously and start thinking about concrete ways that they could help Taiwan or stymie any kind of Chinese attack. I think it is very important for Korea to think this through and think about ways they could support Taiwan and be part of a larger alliance that can push back against China.

[GWS] I keep telling my friends and colleagues in Korea that they should take this problem much more seriously. Taiwan could become the biggest challenge for the Yoon administration’s foreign policy, not North Korea. China policy has become an extremely divisive partisan issue in South Korea, and it could tear the country apart. What advice would you have for President Yoon?

[FF] There’s two things. First is the rhetorical position. Korea should make its position clear in advance that it would oppose Chinese military action and would support the United States, for example. Korea is going to get dragged into this because so much U.S. military equipment is in Korea, and that is going to be moved in closer to the theater. I think making that position clear in advance is important.

The other thing that’s been very clear from the Ukraine war is that democracies are not prepared for an extended conflict. Everybody is running out of ammunition in Europe and the United States is running low on certain types of ammunition. The Ukrainians have used so much of it just in the 10 months they have been fighting. I think that any high-intensity conflict in East Asia is also going to be very costly in terms of supplies. South Korea is in a better position than other countries because it has been preparing for a North Korean attack for decades. Everybody needs to be prepared for an extended conflict. It may not be over in 48 hours.

[GWS] Koreans are quite nervously watching the ongoing escalation of tensions between the United States and China. In the past, the paradigm was “United States for security, China for the economy” (an-mi-gyeong-joong). Now, security and the economy are linked together. The Yoon government is promoting the strengthening of the alliance with the United States, but South Korea faces the fundamental problem of how to position itself as U.S.-China tensions escalate. Do you have any wisdom for Korea?

[FF] I don’t know if it’s wisdom, but I think Korea needs to take a clearer position. Under the previous government, there was a belief that Korea could somehow be halfway between China and the United States. That’s just not a tenable position. The tension between the United States and China has really been driven by China ever since 2013, when Xi Jinping took power. China has become a much more severe dictatorship internally, and it has become much more aggressive externally. You see the influence of the Belt and Road Initiative and the militarization of the South China Sea. In the last 10 or 15 years, China has been picking fights with India, Japan, Korea, and all of Southeast Asia over territorial issues. They built the size of their military much more rapidly than any other great power in that period of time. As a result, the United States and other countries have simply reacted to this. I think that 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.

[GWS] I agree that an-mi-gyeong-joong is now obsolete, but I think that South Korea must be more sophisticated in its response. As they say, the devil is in the details. On the economy, Seoul can actively work with Washington on areas closely related to security, but it can still partner with Beijing on sectors that are not. There can be a fine-tuned policy.

I now want to ask about North Korea and U.S. policy. I have been saying that the Biden administration policy is one of “strategic neglect,” not the “strategic patience” of the Obama administration. Kim Jong-un keeps testing missiles and provoking, and South Koreans are puzzled by the lack of response from Washington. Why is that? Is it because all the attention is on Ukraine and China?

[FF] Not every problem has a solution, and I don’t think this problem has a solution. You could use diplomacy. You could use military force. You could use deterrence. There are a limited number of possible approaches, and I think none of them are going to work. There has been a long history of negotiation. That has not worked. I think confrontation is not going to work. I think preemption is certainly not going to work. I just don’t think there’s a good solution, so we’ve ended up with trying to ignore the problem by default. Part of the reason North Korea is launching all of these missiles is that they want people to pay attention to them. Ignoring the problem is not much of a solution either, but it’s not as if there is a better solution.

[GWS] I agree with you that for many people in government, North Korea has been a hot potato. You don’t want to touch it because there is no clear solution, and it won’t help your career. But if we just ignore the problem, then five years later it’s going to be worse. What kind of North Korea are we going to face in five or ten years?

[FF] Everybody has been hoping that something would happen internally. It’s fine to think that, but it’s also not taking place. That said, Kim Jong-un is obese and unhealthy. Who knows what might happen?

We've had four elections now where [Trump] was playing a major role in the Republican Party. In three of those elections, he really hurt his own party. He can stir up a third of the electorate that loves him, but it’s never enough to win an election, especially in a swing state.
Francis Fukuyama

[GWS] Let’s now turn to domestic politics here in the United States. I think many Americans were relieved by what happened in the midterm elections last month. Trump’s influence was much more limited than what people thought. But he’s still there, and he’s likely to run again. I think he is still a strong candidate for the Republicans.

[FF] He declared his candidacy, but I think that he is declining very rapidly in influence. We have had four elections now where he was playing a major role in the Republican Party. In three of those elections, he really hurt his own party. He can stir up a third of the electorate that loves him, but it’s never enough to win an election, especially in a swing state. I think he’s gotten crazier in recent months. He is doing so many self-destructive things, having dinner with neo-Nazis and repeating all these conspiracy theories. These are things that no rational candidate would do. The Republicans are going to want somebody that can actually beat the Democrats, and I don’t think it’s going to be him.

[GWS] You don’t expect a rematch between Biden and Trump in 2024?

[FF] This gets into a technical issue, but the Republican primaries are mostly winner-take-all primaries. Any candidate that can get 30% of the vote is likely to be nominated. If you have a Republican field that has several people competing, they may split the alternative vote and Trump may end up winning. I think he still has a good chance of being the Republican nominee. If you’re a Democrat, that’s not the worst thing in the world. It is probably easier to run against Trump than a more normal Republican candidate.

[GWS] Two years is still a long time in politics. You said that Trump is likely to be nominated. Would Biden also run again?

[FF] I think that Biden is going to run again. Part of the problem is in the Democratic Party. It’s not clear who the successor would be. There are a lot of potential new-generation politicians, but I don’t think any of them has enough presence and attention that they can clearly take over the mantle to run as the Democratic candidate. If there is a rematch, I think Biden will win.

[GWS] Now to South Korea. Last June, I did some interviews advocating a parliamentary system, and they received good attention. There is still a lot of hesitancy among Koreans, though. I think there are a few reasons. The first is that we need a strong presidential system to deal with North Korea. There’s no stability if the prime minister keeps changing. Second is that it may drive politicians closer to big business (chaebol) because there’s less direct accountability. What would you suggest for South Korea in terms of institutional reform?

[FF] There are several possibilities even short of a parliamentary system. You can coordinate the presidential and parliamentary terms. It’s still the case that the president has a five-year term, but the legislature is on an even-year term. If you want to have strong government, you need a president that has majority support in the legislature. If they get elected simultaneously on a regular basis, you’re more likely to see strong leadership emerge. In a presidential system, the legislature itself is a check against the president. If you don’t have a strong majority in the legislature, you can’t do anything.

[GWS] That is what is happening right now in Korea.

[FF] In a parliamentary system like the British one, if you have a majority in parliament, you can do what you want. I think the presumption that somehow a presidential system is inevitably stronger than a parliamentary system is not historically correct.

[GWS] Is a parliamentary system maybe one solution to political polarization?

[FF] Sometimes a parliamentary system will have that effect, but the kind of plurality voting system that we have in the United States and in Britain tends to promote polarization. To the extent that you make it possible for third parties to run, that’s probably a better system. If you have more parties and it becomes harder to get a majority in the legislature, that forces coalitions and some degree of power sharing.

Francis Fukuyama 2022

Francis Fukuyama

Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Director of the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy, and Professor by Courtesy, Department of Political Science
Full Biography
Gi-Wook Shin

Gi-Wook Shin

Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Professor of Sociology, William J. Perry Professor of Contemporary Korea, Director of the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, and Director of the Korea Program
Full Biography

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In the Wake of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, Korea Should Join Its Peers in Defending the Liberal International Order

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A Conversation with Francis Fukuyama on the Challenges of a Changing Global Order

Authors
Gi-Wook Shin
News Type
Commentary
Date
Paragraphs

This essay originally appeared in Korean on November 27 in Sindonga (New East Asia), Korea’s oldest monthly magazine (established 1931), as part of a monthly column, "Shin’s Reflections on Korea." Translated by Raymond Ha. A PDF version of this essay is also available to download. 



Two great waves of change are sweeping across the world. The first is the economic and technological transformation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. At the same time, declining birth rates and aging populations have triggered social and demographic changes, mostly in developed countries. The global demand for highly skilled labor is rising to due to rapid technological progress, but the working-age population is shrinking. This has created a widening supply-demand imbalance for global talent. Companies and countries are locked in a fierce competition to attract the most talented individuals.

Korea is no exception. It severely lacks the workforce that it needs to successfully navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Moreover, the demographic changes noted above are proceeding at a much faster pace in Korea than in other developed countries. Until now, Korea has focused on attracting low-skilled labor from abroad to address domestic labor shortages. However, Korea must now pivot to attracting high-skilled talent from across the world to safeguard its future. New economic and demographic realities leave no alternative.

Although it faces such formidable challenges, Korea is lagging far behind in the global competition to attract talent. It does not present a welcoming environment for foreign workers. The size of Korea’s economy ranks in the top 15 worldwide, but it ranked 27 out of 134 countries in INSEAD’s 2021 Global Talent Competitiveness Index.[1] Specifically, it falls worryingly short on two elements that are central to talent competitiveness: brain gain and tolerance for immigrants, respectively ranking at 45 and 65.

If Korea is to overcome its current demographic crisis and find a new engine of economic growth amidst the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is vital to formulate policies and strategies to attract and utilize highly skilled talent from abroad.
Gi-Wook Shin

If Korea is to overcome its current demographic crisis and find a new engine of economic growth amidst the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is vital to formulate policies and strategies to attract and utilize highly skilled talent from abroad. To be sure, the government has recognized this problem for many years. The Presidential Committee on Aging Society and Population Policy was formed in 2005, and the Yoon Suk-Yeol administration is preparing to create a new agency to coordinate and direct immigration policy.[2] Nonetheless, government policies still fall short in many respects. Countries with a long history of immigration, such as the United States and Australia, are taking proactive steps to attract global talent. The same holds true of countries that have key historical and social similarities with Korea, including Japan and Germany. What can Korea learn from their experiences?

The Front Lines of a Global Talent War

The 21st century has given rise to a veritable global war to attract talent. The competition is quickly intensifying in cutting-edge technologies, including artificial intelligence, big data, self-driving vehicles, and robotics. Faced with falling birth rates and aging populations, many developed countries are eager to attract global talent. Since demand for such talent is not confined to any region or country, highly skilled individuals are crossing oceans and continents to destinations that provide the most promising opportunities. These individuals consider not only potential wages, but also quality of life and the socioeconomic environment. As their skills are in high demand, they hold all the cards.

Political factors, such as the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment and chauvinistic nationalism, are also having a significant impact on talent flows. Tensions between China and the United States, especially in the areas of technology and information, further complicate the picture. Silicon Valley is at the front lines of this Sino-U.S. competition, as well as the global war to attract talent. There is a sense of urgency in the struggle against China to secure talent in critical technologies like those mentioned above. Trade disputes between Washington and Beijing are only the tip of the iceberg. The real battle is taking place over technology, information, and the highly skilled individuals who work in these sectors. Since the Chinese government is making a concerted effort to gain the upper hand in talent recruitment, the United States is compelled to respond. The Biden administration has been taking legislative steps at home and crafting multilateral initiatives abroad to bolster economic security in key sectors, including semiconductors.[3]

The rise and fall of global companies over the past 30 years highlights the gravity of the global war to attract talent in the technology sector. As of April 2022, the top five companies in the world in terms of market capitalization were Apple, Saudi Aramco, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google’s parent company), and Amazon.[4] With the exception of Saudi Aramco, which has benefited from the recent surge in oil prices, all of them are relatively young IT companies that have amassed enormous wealth by utilizing advanced technologies. These companies heavily rely on talent from countries across the world, including China and India. The battle between the United States and China to attract talent in these fields will only grow more complex in the years to come.

In 1989, which marked the heyday of Japan’s postwar economy, the situation was quite different: 7 of the top 10 and 32 of the top 50 companies in the world were Japanese. Thirty years on, there are no Japanese companies in the top 30. Only Toyota barely clings on to the top 50.[5] While Japanese companies succeeded in creating products for a global market, a rigid organizational culture and the failure to attract overseas talent precipitated a prolonged economic decline. Japan fell behind in the competition to attract global talent because of an inward-looking and exclusionary corporate culture.

Korea should reflect on Japan’s experience, as it is in the midst of an unprecedented perfect storm. It is facing a crisis on three fronts: a plummeting birth rate, an aging population, and a serious brain drain.
Gi-Wook Shin

Korea should reflect on Japan’s experience, as it is in the midst of an unprecedented perfect storm. It is facing a crisis on three fronts: a plummeting birth rate, an aging population, and a serious brain drain. The first two crises are leading to a shrinking working-age population in the coming decades. In addition, the ongoing brain drain will have grave repercussions for Korea’s future by thinning out its domestic talent pool.

Korea and Japan in an Aging World

In the past, Korea focused on achieving economic growth by controlling population growth. Under Park Chung-Hee, for instance, the South Korean government recognized population policy as an integral element of its plans for economic development. It increased access to contraceptives and launched a nationwide campaign to encourage people to have fewer children.[6] Little thought was given, however, to how a low birth rate and an aging population would affect the economy. In addition, several socioeconomic changes and strains have also further contributed to South Korea’s declining birth rates and population: expensive housing, intense job market competition, and young people choosing to pursue their careers over starting families. However, Japan’s experiences prove cautionary: among advanced countries, Japan was the first to encounter a demographic crisis, and its failure to anticipate and properly respond to this problem was an important factor in its economic slowdown. The country’s “Lost Two Decades” were partly related to sudden changes in its birth rate and population age structure.

Korea’s demographic crisis is unfolding at a much faster pace. Its birth rate is already lower than that of Japan, and its population is aging more quickly. . . these demographic changes will have far-reaching effects on Korea’s society and economy.
Gi-Wook Shin

Korea’s demographic crisis is unfolding at a much faster pace. Its birth rate is already lower than that of Japan, and its population is aging more quickly. Combined with the severe brain drain, these demographic changes will have far-reaching effects on Korea’s society and economy.

According to Korea’s national statistical office, 260,600 infants were born in 2021.[7] This represents a 4.3% decline compared to the previous year. The annual figure hovered around 600,000 until 2000, but it has fallen to less than half that figure in only two decades. In terms of the total fertility rate (TFR), Korea fell from 0.84 in 2020 to 0.81 in 2021. This statistic represents the average number of children that a woman would have by the end of her reproductive period (age 15 to 49).[8] Simply put, Korea has reached the point where the average woman does not give birth to even one child over her lifetime.

The OECD classifies countries with a TFR of 1.3 or lower as having an extremely low birth rate. Korea entered this category in 2002. Of the 38 OECD member states, Korea has had the lowest birth rate since 2017. The impact of this demographic downturn is already clear, with a noticeable decline in the population of college-age students.[9] Korea’s economy will have an ever-shrinking domestic pool of talent to draw from.

Korea’s population is also aging rapidly. It is projected to become an “extremely aged society” by 2025, when 20.6% of its population will be 65 or older. This figure is expected to reach 40% by the middle of the century. The pace of this change is much faster than it was in Japan, which is well known across the world as an aged society. An Aging World: 2015, a 2016 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, predicts that Korea will become the second-most aged society by 2050, exceeded only by Japan. Korea had been one of the youngest countries, it notes, but will become one of the oldest in the next 50 years.[10]

Korea’s government may have succeeded in its efforts to control population growth, thereby facilitating the “Miracle on the Han River,” but the demographic consequences of those policies now pose a significant obstacle to the country’s sustainable development. The working-age population (age 15 to 64) peaked at 73.2% of the population in 2017. This proportion will plunge to 66.0% by 2030 and 51.1% by 2050. A shrinking labor force will have to shoulder an increasingly heavy burden to support the elderly.

While the government already recognized the gravity of the problem many years ago, its efforts to alleviate the situation have yielded only dismal results. It poured $200 billion into various initiatives aimed at lifting the birth rate over the last 16 years, but the country now has the lowest fertility rate.[11] Attempts to address the aging problem have also been unsuccessful. Although the government is allocating greater resources to deal with the issue, the situation is dire. The relative poverty rate among the elderly reached 40.4% in 2020.[12] In addition, the suicide rate among the elderly was 54.8 per 100,000 in 2017. This is 3.2 times the OECD average. More resources are required to effectively address the problem, which is likely to worsen in the coming decades.

Exit: An Outflow of Talent

These population issues are compounded by the fact that Korea is also experiencing a serious brain drain. This is especially pronounced among highly educated individuals in STEM fields, who will play a vital role in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In 2016, the Biological Research Information Center, an online forum for biologists in Korea, surveyed 1,005 of its members about this issue. When asked, “If you had to find a job within a year, would you prefer staying in Korea or going abroad?” 47% of respondents indicated that they would look overseas.[13]Furthermore, Korean students who graduate from PhD programs in the United States in STEM fields mostly prefer to find jobs in America instead of returning home. Around half of these individuals remain in the United States after graduation, and the number has grown over time. In 2011, the 5-year stay rate of Koreans who had graduated with a PhD from the United States in science or engineering was 42%.[14] In 2017, it was 57%.[15]

Companies in China and Europe are working hard to recruit Korean talent in advanced technologies. Northvolt, a Swedish battery manufacturer, revealed that it hired personnel from LG Chemical to play a central role on its own R&D team soon after the company was established. The electric vehicle division of China’s Evergrande Group is hiring talent from abroad, including Korea. As the Sino-U.S. competition intensifies, Chinese companies are pulling out all the stops to attract foreign talent in key sectors, including the semiconductor industry. They are offering salaries that are two to four times higher than what Korean companies can provide. There are growing concerns that a brain drain could also lead to an outflow of critical technologies.

According to a 2016 report by the Swiss-based Institute for Management Development, Korea ranked 41st of 63 countries in terms of brain drain and 33rd in terms of brain gain.[16] The countries analyzed in this report can be divided into four groups, depending on whether they rank high or low on the two dimensions of brain drain and brain gain. Countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom have low brain drain and high brain gain, which means that they can draw on a large talent pool. Korea, Japan, and Taiwan are in the opposite situation. They have high brain drain and low brain gain. Even among this group, Korea shows the largest gap between talent inflow and outflow. It finds itself in an especially disadvantageous position as it enters the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

There is no time to lose. If Korea is to find its way out of the perfect storm of a demographic decline compounded by a brain drain, it must be able to attract and rely on foreign talent. It cannot remain a bystander in the intensifying global competition to recruit talent. Until now, Korea has mostly drawn on low-skilled workers from China and Southeast Asian countries. As of 2021, there were 855,000 such migrant workers in Korea. The number of highly skilled migrant workers is less than 10% of this figure. There must be a shift toward attracting foreign talent before it is too late.

Concerns about the possible economic costs of high-skilled immigration fail to appreciate the bigger picture. An influx of foreign talent could contribute to job creation, especially in the skilled sector, thereby alleviating youth unemployment.
Gi-Wook Shin

This will not be a straightforward task. Immigration is a highly sensitive issue in Korea. Chronic youth unemployment, especially among college graduates, continues to be a serious problem. This is largely due to a mismatch in Korea’s labor market, whereby there is strong preference among young Koreans for skilled, professional jobs, which are on a decline.[17] As youth unemployment is a structural problem that cannot be quickly resolved, the public will be anything but receptive to calls for high-skilled immigration. A wave of anti-immigrant sentiment swept across Europe and reached the shores of the United States, where Trump entered the White House by capitalizing on the anger of white working-class voters. It would be unwise to ignore similar political undercurrents in Korea. Nevertheless, concerns about the possible economic costs of high-skilled immigration fail to appreciate the bigger picture. An influx of foreign talent could contribute to job creation, especially in the skilled sector, thereby alleviating youth unemployment. Moreover, assembling a diverse workforce will stimulate creativity, which plays a pivotal role in the technology sector.[18]

Who Will Make the Next iPhone?

Silicon Valley provides an important data point for informing discussions in Korea about high-skilled immigration. The region’s success would not be possible without the unique history of the United States as a nation of immigrants. However, it is the inclusive culture of Silicon Valley, which recruits diverse talent without regard for ethnicity or nationality, that has enabled its companies to become the driving engine of the global economy. In only 30 years, these individuals have transformed the orchards and vineyards of a small corner of northern California into the global epicenter of the technology industry. Some of them first arrived as students at Stanford or UC Berkeley and then settled down in the Bay Area. Others came in search of jobs from the very beginning. Together, they are competing and collaborating with each other as they push humanity toward new frontiers of technological innovation.

Without such a multinational, multiethnic workforce, Silicon Valley as we know it would not exist. It stands at the cutting edge of technologies that define the Fourth Industrial Revolution, including AI, self-driving vehicles, augmented reality, and IoT. The brightest minds in the world have gathered in Silicon Valley from all corners of the globe. It is no coincidence that engineers and entrepreneurs of Indian, Chinese, and Taiwanese heritage play a leading role in the region’s largest companies. Sundar Pichai (Google), Satya Nadella (Microsoft), and Rajeev Suri (Nokia) all completed their undergraduate studies in India before coming to the United States to build their careers. Jen-Hsun Huang (Nvidia) and Steven Chen (YouTube), both prominent figures in Silicon Valley, emigrated to the United States from Taiwan at a young age. Marc Tessier-Lavigne, the president of Stanford University, came to the United States as a post-doc after completing his PhD in France. It is common to see other faculty members who first came to the United States as students from India or China.

The INVEST Act of 2012, introduced by representatives Adam Schiff and Charles Bass, provides a pathway for foreign students in STEM fields to create companies and obtain permanent residency in the United States. In a March 2012 op-ed, Schiff and Bass observe that “for every foreign-born worker who puts his or her advanced degree to work in this country, more than two jobs for American-born workers are created.” They stress that “our universities are educating the next generation of Steve Jobs’; let’s make sure that they build the next Apple—and the next iPhone—in the United States.”[19] At a congressional hearing in 2008, Bill Gates similarly noted that “Microsoft hires four Americans for supporting roles for every high-skilled H-1B visa holder it hires,” calling on the U.S. government to take proactive measures to attract foreign talent.[20]

Around a quarter of all technology and engineering-related companies created in the United States between 2006 and 2012 were formed by immigrants. In Silicon Valley, the proportion is nearly 50%.[21] The experiences of first-generation immigrant entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX), Sergey Brin (Google), Andrew Grove (Intel), and Vinod Khosla (Sun Microsystems) are anything but exceptional. One analysis finds that “immigrant founders from top venture-backed firms have created an estimated average of 150 jobs per company.”[22] Numerous studies demonstrate that high-skilled immigration, instead of taking jobs away from native-born workers, leads to job creation and promotes economic development through technological innovation. Companies such as Google, Apple, and Facebook (Meta) spoke out strongly against the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies for this very reason.

Making the Most of Global Talent Flows

Many countries have now entered the global competition for talent, some of which bear similarities to Korea. Widely hailed for its success as a “startup nation,” Israel was able to develop its economy by attracting talent from diverse countries. Just like Korea, Israel lacks natural resources and is located in a volatile, conflict-prone region. Despite these disadvantages, Israel succeeded in recruiting foreign talent and attracting multinational companies. After the Soviet Union collapsed, there was a large influx of immigrants into Israel. Many of them were professors, scientists, and engineers, and their skills and experiences played a pivotal role in facilitating Israel’s economic growth.[23]

Germany, which is arguably the originator of ethnic nationalism, also merits a closer look. Before 2000, Germany enforced stringent restrictions on high-skilled immigration for foreign talent. Concerns about its declining birth rate, aging population, and shortage of highly trained STEM personnel prompted the government to revise its immigration policies. It introduced a “Blue Card” system in 2012 that enabled highly qualified foreign workers to seek employment in Germany. In only two years, Germany succeeded in attracting 17,000 individuals through this system from non-EU member states. Unlike the United Kingdom or France, where anti-immigrant sentiment remains prevalent, Germany is poised to further expand high-skilled immigration. This will bring economic benefits that will cement the country’s role as a pillar of the EU.

Japan has also transformed its policies to overcome its demographic malaise. While it previously focused on low-skilled immigration for “3D” occupations, just as Korea has, Japan has now set its sights on attracting foreign talent.[24] One of the major elements of Abenomics was attracting foreign talent. The government announced a plan to host 300,000 foreign students. It provided tailored assistance at every step of the way, from admissions to graduation and job preparation. In particular, foreign students who sought to find employment in Japan after graduation were offered career counseling and employment assistance. Visa regulations were amended to allow such students to stay in Japan for a year while seeking employment. There has already been a change in atmosphere among Japanese businesses. In a survey of 732 Japanese companies in December 2018, 57.2% indicated that they had already hired (or planned to hire) a foreign worker with a college degree.[25]

China has also thrown its hat in the ring. Hao Zhen, chief consultant for Zhaopin, a popular Chinese job search website, noted that “China desperately needs highly skilled workers in AI and other sectors, but it does not have an education system that is capable of creating such a workforce.” This is “why major Chinese IT companies such as Baidu and Alibaba are seeking to recruit foreign talent,” Hao added.[26] China is taking steps to promote high-skilled immigration by relaxing regulations for employment visas and permanent residence. These policies were initiated by the central government, but in 2016 these measures were also extended to immigration policies at the provincial level. Furthermore, the Chinese government also introduced a policy to provide permanent residence to foreigners who start a company in Zhongguancun, also known as China’s Silicon Valley, provided that they meet certain criteria.

Time to Tear Down the Walls

A truly global competition is underway to attract highly skilled workers, and it is past time for Korea to join the fray. This is matter of survival for Korea, given its demographic crises and brain drain. There is a pressing need to form a public consensus in Korea on high-skilled immigration.

Any number of policy proposals could help attract foreign talent. One example that could be implemented with relative ease is to draw foreign students into the labor market. . . . These students have the potential to make valuable contributions to Korea’s society and economy.
Gi-Wook Shin

Any number of policy proposals could help attract foreign talent. One example that could be implemented with relative ease in Korea is to draw foreign students into the labor market. Although the number of foreign students has surpassed 100,000, hosting foreign students is still primarily seen as a means of compensating for declining enrollment numbers at home. These students have the potential to make valuable contributions to Korea’s society and economy, but as some have noted, they are not always as skilled or qualified as their Korean counterparts. Moreover, the industries they seek to enter are not necessarily the ones where Korea needs foreign talent. This could be remedied by establishing a comprehensive system to nurture and train foreign students, starting from the admissions process. This can help ensure that foreign students play an essential role in Korea’s economy, especially in sectors that face critical labor shortages. Creating successful pathways to employment for foreign students will help attract even more students down the line.

The United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and now Japan have already taken similar steps. In Japan, around 30,000 foreign students found jobs in 2019 after graduating. Assuming that around a quarter of the 300,000 foreign students in Japan graduated after full-time enrollment, the employment rate is roughly 40%. The goal is to reach 50% employment for foreign-born graduates, and the current success rate is already playing an important role in attracting more talented students from abroad. Korea should also put in place the institutions to enable this virtuous cycle and use global talent flows to its advantage.

Drawing highly skilled foreign workers into Korea’s economy will not only strengthen the overall talent pool, but also stimulate creative thinking and enhance productivity by raising cultural diversity.[27] In an industrial economy, it was vital to have a homogeneous and cohesive workforce that could quickly and efficiently achieve a given objective. We now live in an economy where creativity and innovation are the order of the day. There is an emphasis on the power of creative destruction. Korea remains one of the most homogeneous societies in the world, and Koreans have traditionally placed a high value on ethnic and cultural unity. Increasing diversity is an urgent and daunting challenge. An influx of global talent could help revitalize Korea’s economy and stimulate technological innovation. The recent surge of interest in Korean culture across the world could provide a crucial window of opportunity to attract foreign talent.[28]

In this vein, it is timely that the Yoon administration is preparing to establish a new agency to handle immigration policy. However, it will not be enough to revise the Immigration Act or pass laws to create new institutions. There must be a profound social and cultural transformation. In particular, Koreans must tear down the walls of their exclusionary “super-networks,” which are often built around common alma maters, shared regional backgrounds, and family ties. We must move beyond the emphasis on purity and homogeneity. Only then can Korea foster an open, inclusive, and tolerant culture where individuals of diverse backgrounds can freely come together and strive for new heights of innovation.

Two thousand years ago, all roads led to Rome. When in Rome, as the saying goes, people had to “do as the Romans do.” We now live in a world of complex global talent flows, where highly skilled individuals around the world cross oceans and continents to seek the most promising opportunities. If Koreans insist that foreigners “do as the Koreans do,” they will simply look elsewhere.


 

[1] Bruno Lanvin and Felipe Monteiro, eds., The Global Talent Competitiveness Index 2021: Talent Competitiveness in Times of COVID (Fontainebleau, France: INSEAD, 2021), https://www.insead.edu/sites/default/files/assets/dept/fr/gtci/GTCI-2021-Report.pdf. The full breakdown of Korea’s scores is on p. 146.

[2] Lee Hyo-Jin, “Gov’t Prepares to Set Up Migrant Policy Agency,” Korea Times, November 9, 2022, https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2022/11/177_339429.html.

[3] Gi-Wook Shin, “Walking a Tightrope,” Shorenstein APARC, November 16, 2022, https://aparc.fsi.stanford.edu/news/walking-tightrope.

[4] “The 100 Largest Companies in the World by Market Capitalization in 2022,” Statista, May 2022, accessed November 30, 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/263264/top-companies-in-the-world-by-market-capitalization/.

[5] “100 Largest Companies in the World,” Statista.

[6] Wie Young, “Korea’s Population Policy, Past and Present” [in Korean], Quarterly Journal of the National Archives of Korea 16 (2011): 72–74, https://www.archives.go.kr/archivesdata/upFile/palgan/1320392249078.pdf.

[7] Unless noted otherwise, all population statistics in this section are from KOSIS (Korean Statistical Information Service), Korea’s national statistical office, https://kosis.kr/index/index.do.

[8] The full definition of TFR given by the World Health Organization is “the average number of children a hypothetical cohort of women would have at the end of their reproductive period if they were subject during their whole lives to the fertility rates of a given period and if they were not subject to mortality.” See “Total Fertility Rate (per Woman),” WHO, https://www.who.int/data/gho/indicator-metadata-registry/imr-details/123.

[9] Children who were born in 2002, when Korea’s TFR first fell below 1.3, would have entered college in 2020.

[10] Wan He, Daniel Goodkind, and Paul Kowal, An Aging World: 2015 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2016), https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/demo/p95-16-1.pdf.

[11] Paula Hancocks, “South Korea Spent $200 Billion, but It Can’t Pay People Enough to Have a Baby,” CNN, December 4, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/12/03/asia/south-korea-worlds-lowest-fertility-rate-intl-hnk-dst/index.html.

[12] This is defined as the proportion of households among the elderly population (65 or over) whose disposable income falls below the poverty line. The poverty line is defined as 50% of the median household disposable income for the entire population. See also “Relative Poverty Rate of Elderly Is Highest Among OECD Member Countries,” Dong-A Ilbo, April 7, 2022, https://www.donga.com/en/article/all/20220407/3299509/1.

[13] Lee Kang-Soo and Park Ji-Min, “A Survey Regarding the Brain Drain among STEM Personnel” [in Korean], Biological Research Information Center, July 12, 2016, https://www.ibric.org/myboard/print.php?Board=report&id=2534.

[14] The 5-year stay rate counts foreign students who remain in the United States for five years after their PhD is awarded. This represents an increase from 10 years prior, when the stay rate was 22%. See “Stay Rates of Foreign Doctorate Recipients,” Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, https://orise.orau.gov/stem/workforce-studies/stay-rates-of-foreign-doctorate-recipients.html.

[15] “Survey of Doctorate Recipients: Survey Year 2017,” National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, 2017, https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/doctoratework/2017/.

[16] The 2016 IMD World Talent Report (Lausanne, Switzerland: Institute for Management Development, 2016), https://www.imd.org/contentassets/5665db95f401437a802c0d86aaa2dfb1/com_november_2016.pdf.

[17] Kyungsoo Choi, “Why Korea’s Youth Unemployment Rate Rises,” KDI Focus 88 (2017): 4. https://doi.org/10.22740/kdi.focus.e.2017.88.

[18] See Gi-Wook Shin, “Beyond Representation: How Diversity Can Unleash Korea’s Innovation,” Shorenstein APARC, June 30, 2022, https://aparc.fsi.stanford.edu/news/beyond-representation-how-diversity-can-unleash-korea%E2%80%99s-innovation.

[19] Adam Schiff and Charlie Bass, “Winning the Global War for Talent,” Glendale News-Press, March 10, 2012, https://www.latimes.com/socal/glendale-news-press/news/tn-gnp-xpm-2012-03-10-tn-pas-0311-congressman-adam-schiff-and-congressman-charlie-basson-winning-the-global-war-for-talent-story.html.

[20] Timothy B. Lee, “Gates to Congress: Microsoft Needs More H-1B Visas,” Ars Technica, March 13, 2008, https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2008/03/gates-to-congress-microsoft-needs-more-h1-b-visas/.

[21] Sarah McBride, “One Quarter of U.S. Tech Start-Ups Founded by an Immigrant: Study,” Reuters, October 2, 2012, http://reut.rs/Wduege.

[22] Jason Wiens, Chris Jackson, and Emily Fetsch, “Immigrant Entrepreneurs: A Path to U.S. Economic Growth,” Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, January 21, 2015, https://www.kauffman.org/resources/entrepreneurship-policy-digest/immigrant-entrepreneurs-a-path-to-us-economic-growth/.

[23] Shin, “Beyond Representation.”

[24] 3D jobs are those that are dirty, dangerous, and demeaning (or demanding/difficult). 

[25] Yuta Koyanagi, “More Japanese Companies Hire Talent from Overseas Universities,” Nikkei Asia, January 30, 2019, https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Business-trends/More-Japanese-companies-hire-talent-from-overseas-universities.

[26] Kim Dong-Yoon, “Baidu’s Li Yanhong to Silicon Valley Developers: If You Don’t Like Trump, Come to China” [in Korean], Korea Economic Daily, November 20, 2016, https://www.hankyung.com/international/article/2016112020801.

[27] Shin, “Beyond Representation.”

[28] See Gi-Wook Shin, “Will Hallyu Swell to a Tidal Wave? Korea’s Future as a Cultural Superpower,” Shorenstein APARC, August 1, 2022, https://aparc.fsi.stanford.edu/news/will-hallyu-swell-tidal-wave-koreas-future-cultural-superpower.

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Can Korea Avoid Japan’s Lost Decade?

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Visiting Scholar at FSI and APARC, 2022-23
Payne Distinguished Fellow, 2023 Winter Quarter
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Ambassador Jung-Seung Shin joins the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) and the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (Shorenstein APARC) as Visiting Scholar and Payne Distinguished Fellow for the 2023 winter quarter. He previously served as Ambassador for the Republic of Korea to the People's Republic of China from 2008 to 2010, and currently serves as Chair Professor at the East Asia Institute at Dongseo University. While at Stanford, he will be conducting research on the strategic relationships between Korea, China, and the United States.

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Gi-Wook Shin
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This essay originally appeared in Korean on October 27 in Sindonga (New East Asia), Korea’s oldest monthly magazine (established 1931), as part of a monthly column, "Shin’s Reflections on Korea." Translated by Raymond Ha. A PDF version of this essay is also available to download.


Tensions between the United States and China are escalating and spreading into every corner of the complex bilateral relationship, including trade, advanced technologies, finance, ideology, talent, and the military domain. In 2019, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who played a critical role in Nixon’s opening to China, warned that the two countries were at “the foothills of a Cold War.” If left unresolved, he added, there could be dire consequences—worse than those of World War I.

Xi Jinping is driven by his grand vision of a “Chinese dream.” He secured the foundations for an unprecedented third term as president at the 20th party congress last month, as he prepares for a “new great struggle” to achieve China’s dominance on the world stage.[1] Meanwhile, the Biden administration is raising the pressure on Beijing through a series of legislative measures under the banner of “Made in America.” It is bringing economic security to the forefront of its diplomacy, encouraging allies to participate in initiatives such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and the so-called Chip 4 alliance. 

Moreover, the United States is openly criticizing China’s human rights record, including the situation in Tibet and Xinjiang. There are growing concerns about the risk of a military clash between the two countries, particularly over Taiwan. In its recently published national security strategy, the Biden administration refers to the coming “decisive decade” in the strategic competition against China.[2] The 2022 national defense strategy also calls China the “most consequential strategic competitor” of the United States.[3]

The deepening rift between the United States and China presents many countries, including South Korea, with a vexing foreign policy challenge. There was a profound conflict between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War, and there were tensions between Japan and the United States in the 1980s. However, Seoul was not pressured to take a side in either era. South Korea signed a mutual defense treaty with Washington shortly after the 1953 armistice. This endured throughout the Cold War and to the present day. Even as it challenged U.S. supremacy, Japan remained a treaty ally of the United States. The current situation is fundamentally different and more complicated. South Korea is increasingly under pressure to side with Washington or Beijing on a wide array of regional and international issues.

For some time, experts and policymakers called for relying on the United States for security while partnering with China for the economy (an-mi-gyeong-joong). This paradigm is now obsolete.
Gi-Wook Shin

How should Korea navigate this turbulent landscape? For some time, experts and policymakers called for relying on the United States for security while partnering with China for the economy (an-mi-gyeong-joong). This paradigm is now obsolete.[4] The Yoon administration has proclaimed a values-based foreign policy to strengthen solidarity between liberal democracies. In his opening statement at the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh on November 11, President Yoon reiterated Korea’s support for “strengthening a rule-based international order built on universal values” to foster “freedom, peace, and prosperity” in the Indo-Pacific.[5]

Anti-China sentiment is worsening by the day, even surpassing anti-Japan sentiment. At the same time, there are also growing complaints about the United States, especially after the exclusion of consumer tax credits for Korea’s electric vehicles in the Inflation Reduction Act.
Gi-Wook Shin

Will this approach be sufficient, however? Conflicting trends in Korea’s domestic public opinion complicate the picture. On the one hand, anti-China sentiment is worsening by the day, even surpassing anti-Japan sentiment. At the same time, there are also growing complaints about the United States, especially after the exclusion of consumer tax credits for Korea’s electric vehicles in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Taking these developments into account, this essay seeks to explore the path ahead for Korea by analyzing the nature of U.S.-China tensions and assessing the durability of Pax Americana.

Heading into Thucydides Trap?

U.S.-China relations are widely characterized as “Thucydides Trap.” The Peloponnesian War is regarded as one of the main reasons behind the decline of ancient Greek civilization. Thucydides, an Athenian general and historian, famously wrote that the fundamental cause of this war was due to Spartan fears over the growth of Athenian power. Drawing from Thucydides, international relations theorists have used the concept of a Thucydides Trap to explain tensions between a rising power and a status quo hegemon. Graham Allison, a professor of political science at Harvard, popularized this concept by applying it to Sino-U.S. relations in Destined for War. Beginning from the clash between Portugal and Spain in the late 15th century, Allison notes that there have been 16 instances where an emerging power challenged the hegemonic power. There was a war in all but four cases. When an emerging power is strong enough to challenge the hegemon, this creates structural stresses that frequently lead to a violent conflict.

Based on his analysis of the historical record, Allison warns that the rift between the United States (America First) and China (the Chinese dream) is much wider and deeper than most people perceive it to be. There is now a heightened risk of an armed confrontation between the two countries over Taiwan. Nevertheless, the likelihood of a catastrophic hegemonic war still remains low. Instead, there is likely to be a prolonged conflict and competition between Washington and Beijing centered on advanced technologies.

Made in China 2025 and the Chinese Dream

The U.S.-China trade war began under the Trump administration. Made in China 2025 (MIC 2025), a policy roadmap published by the Chinese government in 2015, drew the attention of the United States and other Western countries. In its opening paragraph, it states that “building an internationally competitive manufacturing industry is the only way China can enhance its comprehensive national strength, ensure national security, and build itself into a world power.”[6]

From the emphasis on “the only way,” it is clear that MIC 2025 is not just an industrial policy. It is an integral element of China’s national security strategy. Under this plan, China seeks to achieve progress in advanced manufacturing technologies such as big data, information technology, aerospace, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. The goal is to become the world’s leading manufacturing power by surpassing the United States.

After MIC 2025 sparked controversy in the West, the Chinese government has refrained from referring to it in public. Nonetheless, it has continued to implement this policy in practice. At the 2021 Lianghui, the concurrent annual meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political and Consultative Conference, the Chinese government strengthened its resolve to reduce its dependence on U.S.-led global value chains as it sought to develop advanced technologies. Specifically, it emphasized the economic policy of dual circulation, which aims to raise domestic consumption while expanding exports of high value-added goods to foreign markets.

The advanced technologies that China is focusing on have potential military applications. For example, drones, artificial intelligence, and facial recognition technology can be used for reconnaissance satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles. China is pursuing military-civil fusion through the Military-Civil Fusion Development Committee, chaired by President Xi. This indicates that Xi intends to personally oversee China’s ambitious efforts to challenge the United States. At this year’s Lianghui, Xi stressed that China is in a strategically advantageous position in its deepening competition with the United States. Furthermore, he unveiled a plan to achieve his “dream of a strong military” by modernizing China’s armed forces through mechanization and the use of advanced information technology. Despite a slowdown in China’s economy, Xi increased defense spending by 7.1 percent.[7]

Those who analyze Xi Jinping’s character classify him as an ideological purist, a true believer of socialism. He sees a historic opportunity for China to become a global superpower, and believes that it is his calling to realize socialism in the 21st century. Unlike his predecessors, he does not shy away from conflict with the United States. In a September 30, 2022, essay in Qiushi, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) leading theoretical journal, Xi stated that “today, we have never been so close to achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, and we have never been more confident in our faith and ability to achieve this goal.”[8] Only two weeks before the CCP’s 20th party congress, where he would secure a third term as general secretary, Xi stressed the need for strong leadership to prepare for the intensifying competition with the United States.

Under Xi’s leadership, the CCP is driven by the zeitgeist of the Chinese dream, of realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. The goal is to make the People’s Republic of China (PRC) the most powerful economic and military power in the world. The emphasis on achieving this goal by 2049 is no coincidence, as it will mark the centennial of the CCP’s victory in the Chinese Civil War, where it defeated the Kuomintang and established the PRC. This timeline also aligns with Xi’s vision of building an advanced socialist country by 2050, which he proclaimed at the 19th National Congress of the CCP. China has a truly ambitious vision, one that leaves the United States no choice but to respond.

From America First to Made in America

When Donald Trump proclaimed “America First” as his slogan in his bid for the White House, his primary target was China. He blamed China for the loss of American jobs, claiming that the United States was suffering greatly from China’s unfair trade practices and interference in markets. This message bolstered his support among white blue-collar workers in the Rust Belt, as they had witnessed a dramatic decline in manufacturing jobs. This enabled him to win key swing states in the Midwest, leading to his victory in the 2016 election.

Upon entering office, Trump consistently maintained a hardline policy against China. For example, the “Secure 5G and Beyond Act of 2020” passed the House 413–3 and cleared the Senate on March 6, 2020. The intent of this law was to create a “whole-of-government approach” to protect America’s telecommunications networks from national security threats posed by Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE, which played a major role in the rollout of 5G networks across the world.[9] His administration increased government oversight of Chinese investment in or acquisition of U.S. tech companies and scrutinized partnerships between American universities and Chinese entities. It tightened visa review procedures for students and visiting scholars from the PRC. It also designated Confucius Institutes in the United States as a “foreign mission” that “[advances] Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses and K-12 classrooms.”[10] All of these measures stemmed from a recognition that China was rapidly closing in on the United States. The National Intelligence Council estimates that if current trends continue, China will surpass the United States to become the world’s largest economy between 2030 and 2035.

The American public’s view of China has continued to deteriorate after Trump left office. According to Pew Research, 47% of respondents held a negative view of China in 2018. This surged to 60% in 2019 and 82% in 2022.[11] Despite a transfer of power to the Democrats in 2020, the overall orientation of U.S. policy toward China has remained unchanged. Under the banner of “Made in America,” the Biden administration has carefully crafted a dense web of policies aimed at China.

In the past three months alone, there have been a raft of legislative and executive measures that encompass semiconductors, electric cars and batteries, and biotechnology. This includes the CHIPS and Science Act (August 9), the IRA (August 16), and an Executive Order on Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation (September 12). These steps are intended to check China’s rise and promote the growth of America’s advanced technology and clean energy sectors. The CHIPS and Science Act sets aside $52.7 billion dollars for America’s semiconductor industry.[12] Companies that receive subsidies under this law are barred from expanding operations or otherwise investing in China for the purpose of manufacturing advanced semiconductors.[13] As noted below, certain provisions of the IRA will also have significant ramifications for Korea’s exports of electric cars to the U.S. market.

Even in Silicon Valley, where anti-China sentiment is not as deeply rooted as it is in Washington, there are concerns about the risk of Chinese industrial espionage and intellectual property theft. There is a hesitation among start-ups to accept funding from Chinese investors.
Gi-Wook Shin

As it undertakes a series of legislative steps at home, the Biden administration has pursued multilateralism abroad. This is a key difference from Trump, who preferred bilateral arrangements. The Biden administration is seeking to institutionalize economic and technological alliances through initiatives such as IPEF and the Chip 4 alliance, and it is encouraging Korea and other allies to participate. By stressing intellectual property rights and China’s unfair economic practices, strengthening its own technological capabilities, and reinforcing relevant international norms, Washington is compelling Beijing to operate within a U.S.-led international order. Even in Silicon Valley, where anti-China sentiment is not as deeply rooted as it is in Washington, there are serious concerns about the risk of Chinese industrial espionage and intellectual property theft. There is a palpable hesitation among start-ups to accept funding from Chinese investors. Chinese investment in America increased throughout the 2000s until reaching a peak of $46 billion in 2016. This plummeted by almost 90% to $5 billion in 2018, due in part to political tensions.[14]

Will Pax Americana Endure?

Since the beginning of Pax Americana in 1945, there have been three challenges to America’s status as a global hegemon: by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Japan in the 1980s, and China in the present day. The Soviet Union engaged in a tense military confrontation with the United States for decades, but collapsed in the late 1980s due to the limitations and internal contradictions of its communist system. Japan once threatened to displace America from the apex of the global capitalist order, but lapsed into the “Lost Two Decades” after its economic bubble burst in the early 1990s. What can we say about the future of China, which is engaging in fierce competition against the United States? In short, I believe that China will not surpass the United States in our time.

Those who predict that China will eclipse the United States point to economic trends. China surpassed Japan in 2010 to become the world’s second-largest economy. It also became the world’s largest exporter in 2014, when its gross domestic product exceeded 60% of U.S. GDP. In purchasing power parity terms, China has already leapfrogged the United States. Both present-day statistics and long-term economic trends point in one direction. If the Chinese government makes a concerted effort to invest in key strategic industries, as outlined in MIC 2025, it is certainly feasible for China to surpass the United States to become the world’s leading manufacturing power by 2049.

However, China still lags far behind the United States in many areas, including military power. In absolute terms, for example, its defense spending is only one-third of what the United States spends on its military. There are also a host of political, social, demographic, and economic challenges that hamper China in its campaign to attain global supremacy.[15] Xi’s aggressive anti-corruption campaign is an indication of widespread corruption in Chinese society. There are also serious human rights issues in Tibet and Xinjiang, and the three Ts of Taiwan, Tibet, and Tiananmen cannot be openly discussed. China’s problems extend beyond its borders. With a land border of nearly 14,000 miles with 14 countries, managing territorial disputes is a tall order. There are also tensions with its maritime neighbors in the South China Sea. China’s efforts at public diplomacy have been unsuccessful, as can be seen from the widespread rise of anti-Chinese sentiment in South Korea and other countries.

Amidst these challenges, Xi Jinping secured a third term as president at the 20th party congress on October 16. Since Deng Xiaoping, China has managed leadership transitions in a relatively stable fashion. Under a system of collective leadership, the leader served two five-year terms and appointed his successor in advance. These practices created a certain degree of predictability, stability, and transparency, thereby facilitating  China’s dramatic economic growth and making it powerful enough to compete with the United States. Xi Jinping has sharply broken from this tradition as he seeks to become a 21st-century emperor.

China’s growth was enabled in no small part by talented individuals who studied abroad and then returned home to apply their experiences and insights. As China closes its doors to the outside world, it is also limiting its potential to become a leader in innovation.

Some argue that China is destined to become an imperial power. However, it will be difficult for a fast follower such as China to build an empire. In general, a country must be a first mover or trendsetter to become a hegemonic power. For example, in the corporate sector, Xiaomi may catch up to Samsung, but can it replace Apple? Tech companies such as Alibaba and Baidu have achieved rapid growth thanks to a sizable domestic market, but they have emulated the business models of Amazon and Google. They have not created a new, transformative platform. China’s growth was enabled in no small part by talented individuals who studied abroad and then returned home to apply their experiences and insights. As China closes its doors to the outside world, it is also limiting its potential to become a leader in innovation.

Furthermore, China is failing to serve as a role model for other countries. Except for a few countries in Africa and Asia, the Belt and Road Initiative has yet to yield meaningful results. If anything, anti-China sentiment is deepening across Europe, North America, and Asia. While the Soviet Union had the communist bloc, China lacks a reliable group of allies. China has indeed achieved remarkable growth in the past 30 years, presenting lucrative economic opportunities for individuals and companies in China and abroad. However, talented individuals across the world would arguably prefer to study, work, and live in the United States than in China. Japan’s postwar growth inspired a “Japan boom,” a desire to study and emulate Japan. There is no comparable “China boom” to speak of.

Rich Mandarins

The Palo Alto area, where I have lived and worked for over two decades, has some of the highest housing prices in the United States. A small condo, which is equivalent to an apartment unit in Korea, costs over $1 million. Since I moved to Stanford in 2001, the Bay Area has seen three significant surges in housing prices. The first two waves resulted from a sudden increase in wealth among young tech workers when Google and Facebook went public. On the other hand, the third surge is said to be related to Chinese residents. Locals call these individuals, who purchase high-end housing in cash, “rich mandarins.”

This group includes company founders and investment professionals, as well as entrepreneurs who have listed their companies on New York’s Stock Exchange. They are mostly in their 50s, and they played a critical role in China’s economic growth through their contributions to the IT sector. Although they have amassed an enormous amount of wealth, they are anxious about China’s prospects and the country’s uncertain political future. They are also worried that the government could seize their companies or their individual property. Their families have already moved to America, and they conduct business by shuttling between China and the United States. Some have left China in search of a new life and career.

As long as those who have attained success in China eventually end up in the United States, China cannot become the world’s leading superpower. These individuals are voting with their feet.

As long as those who have attained success in China eventually end up in the United States, China cannot become the world’s leading superpower. These individuals are voting with their feet. Professor Wang Jisi of Peking University has said that “the day the U.S. truly declines is when visa lines in front of its consulates are no longer crowded.”[16] There is pessimism even among China’s economic elite about the country’s future, especially as Xi Jinping further tightens political control under a one-man dictatorship.

For China to surpass the United States and lead the international order, we should see the opposite. Instead of China’s elites rushing toward the United States, there should be an outflow of American elites to China. Only then can we truly speak of a Pax Sinica. In addition, countries across the world should seek to emulate the Chinese model, not the American model. Based on my own knowledge and experience, I am convinced that the likelihood of such trends emerging in the next 20 or 30 years is vanishingly small. It is thus realistic and reasonable to expect Pax Americana to continue into the next generation, with clear implications for Korea’s foreign policy going forward.

An Empire of Liberty

The United States is a hegemonic power that wields unparalleled influence across the world. It exercises its economic and military power to uphold its political, military, and cultural dominance. Institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF are critical elements of Pax Americana, as are programs such as the Peace Corps and Fulbright Scholarships. During the War on Terror, the United States sacrificed many lives and trillions of dollars in prolonged conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Over the past 100 years, the United States took part in 35 wars, large and small.It will likely be recorded as the country that has participated in the most armed conflicts. Pax Americana appears to be much more robust than Pax Romana or Pax Britannica.

For these reasons, Korea’s progressives criticize American imperialism and advocate for cultivating closer ties with China. We should ask, however, whether a Pax Sinica would be preferable to Pax Americana.

Compared to that of the Soviet Union or present-day China, America’s empire is far more sophisticated. History also tells us so. Although the United States is criticized at times for failing to live up to its proclaimed values, it has shown the strongest commitment to democracy and human rights of any superpower. In an ideal world, the international order would be built solely on sovereign equality. However, any superpower will seek to construct its preferred international order and defend it using various levers of power, including the use of force. To maintain its global hegemony, the United States has effectively deployed a mixture of hard power, soft power, and smart power.

The Yoon administration’s clear articulation of its intent to build a values-based alliance with the United States and other liberal democracies is commendable. There are only a handful of countries other than Korea that have both a defense treaty and an FTA with the U.S.
Gi-Wook Shin

Based on historical experience and a critical analysis of the current state of the world, it would be dangerous to presuppose that Pax Sinica will displace Pax Americana anytime soon. From Korea’s standpoint, it would be unwise to call for strategic ambiguity or for maintaining an equidistant posture between the United States and China. As previously noted, the paradigm of an-mi-gyeong-joong is no longer viable.[17] The Yoon administration’s clear articulation of its intent to build a values-based alliance with the United States and other liberal democracies is commendable. In fact, there are only a handful of countries other than Korea—Israel, Canada, and Australia—that have both a defense treaty and a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States. Korea must foster relationships with these countries, which are a valuable diplomatic asset.

There is deep disappointment and anger in Korea [about the IRA], as this creates a significant disadvantage for Korea’s auto companies. To put it bluntly, Korea’s companies are paying the cost of the Korean government’s failure to address stark economic realities.
Gi-Wook Shin

At the same time, it would be imprudent to focus only on abstract values and neglect vital economic or security interests. Let us consider a recent example. Korea’s leading conglomerates—including Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor Group, and SK—have pledged to invest $26 billion in the United States this year alone. However, the recently passed IRA only provides consumer tax credits to electric vehicles manufactured in North America. There is deep disappointment and anger in Korea, as this creates a significant disadvantage for Korea’s auto companies. To put it bluntly, Korea’s companies are paying the cost of the Korean government’s failure to address stark economic realities.

If the Yoon administration indeed seeks to reduce Korea’s economic dependence on China, it should have a roadmap to strengthen economic ties with the United States while protecting Korea’s own interests. As the United States brings economic security to the forefront, Korea should devise a strategy to avoid repeating the same mistake. Furthermore, even if Korea partners with the United States in advanced technologies that affect national security, it can still maintain economic relations with China in other sectors, including retail, consumer goods, and manufacturing. For values-based diplomacy to be successful, it must be upheld by interest-based diplomacy.

In Search of a Non-Partisan Foreign Policy

In this context, it is worth closely examining two recently published columns regarding the IRA controversy. The first is an op-ed entitled “Yoon Has Been Played by the United States” (September 20) by Park Hyeon, a senior columnist at the progressive Hankyoreh. The second is an op-ed entitled “The IRA Undermines Trust in the Alliance” (September 26) by Lee Mi-Sook, a well-known conservative commentator, in the Munhwa Ilbo.[18] As former Washington correspondents, Park and Lee both have firsthand knowledge of America’s inner workings. Park’s column focuses on criticizing the Yoon administration, while Lee’s piece expresses concern about a weakened U.S.-Korea alliance. Nevertheless, they both show that U.S. policies aimed at China could spark anti-American sentiment in Korea.

Park writes that “the United States, under the banner of economic security, is tying its allies and friendly countries into a U.S.-led economic bloc, weakening China—the hegemonic challenger—while seeking a revival of its domestic manufacturing industry.” He begins from the premise that “this kind of protectionism is harmful for open, export-driven economies such as Korea.” With full knowledge of this state of affairs, Hyundai Motor Group pledged to invest more than $10 billion in the United States, expecting its cars to be granted subsidies in return. Instead, it was given the cold shoulder. Park adds that “the Presidential Office fell into disarray” and missed a golden opportunity to raise these concerns with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who visited Korea shortly after the final text of the IRA was released on July 27. This failure is characteristic of Yoon’s foreign policy, Park concludes.

In her column, Lee writes that “the IRA could once again imperil the U.S.-Korea alliance, which faced a serious crisis under the Trump administration.” She goes on to say that “the exclusion of Korean electric vehicles from subsidies, despite the ‘national treatment’ clause in the Korea-U.S. FTA, is raising suspicions about an underlying lack of concern for Korea in the United States.” Moreover, she adds that “there are signs this dispute over subsidies could turn into something far worse—a question of hurt national pride.” She warns that “if America fails to show flexibility and sticks to the original provision of the IRA, this will not only erode Koreans’ trust in the alliance, but also provide political fodder for progressives (former pro-democracy activists) to stoke anti-Americanism.” In closing, Lee calls upon the United States “to consider Korea’s view of the situation and act in a way that honors the spirit of the U.S.-Korea alliance.”

It is commendable for the Yoon administration to focus on strengthening the U.S.-Korea alliance and building solidarity around shared values, but it must also call on Washington to reciprocate Seoul’s efforts.
Gi-Wook Shin

As these op-eds indicate, both progressives and conservatives are openly expressing their concern about the United States’ failure to show adequate concern for Korea. It is commendable for the Yoon administration to focus on strengthening the U.S.-Korea alliance and building solidarity around shared values, but it must also call on Washington to reciprocate Seoul’s efforts. For instance, as Lee Mi-Sook notes in her column, Korea could suggest an amendment to the IRA to apply subsidies to electric vehicles produced in countries that have an FTA with the United States. Policy missteps could lead to a resurgence of anti-American sentiment in Korea, putting the Yoon administration in a political quagmire. The controversy over the IRA may be the first of many such issues, especially if the Biden administration intensifies its “Made in America” policy.

To overcome the unforgiving realities of Korea’s foreign policy environment, the Yoon administration must be able to rely on a robust domestic consensus and strong popular support. Foreign policy requires a high level of expertise. Some issues have to be resolved behind the scenes, with experts and government officials playing a leading role. That said, foreign policy should not be left entirely in the hands of policy elites, and it should not be a partisan political football. On several occasions, minor incidents during President Yoon’s recent overseas visits received undue attention in the press and became the subject of ridicule back home. This is entirely unnecessary. For example, take the controversy surrounding a hot mic moment during a visit to New York in September.[19] Looking from the outside in, it is difficult to understand why the whole country became engulfed in a bitter partisan debate about a trivial gaffe. Little attention was paid to the substance of the visit.

It is vital to establish a norm whereby important foreign policy issues are addressed in a non-ideological, non-partisan manner that garners broad public support. To do so, the Korean government must increase transparency in its decision-making process when it comes to major issues. It must also endeavor to gather and incorporate public opinion in foreign policy, so that the public does not feel unduly detached from the policymaking process. Governments across the world now recognize domestic public opinion as a critical element of their foreign policy strategy. Diplomacy cannot be effective without public support. Korea’s diplomats, who are in the trenches of international diplomacy, need all the support they can get.

There is no telling when Korea might be battered by a perfect storm in its foreign policy, given the current state of U.S.-China relations. As Hal Brands and Michael Beckley warn in Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China, the race between the United States and China may end up being a sprint, not a marathon. This decade may be the most dangerous period in U.S.-China relations. In the early 20th century, Korea lost its sovereignty after failing to establish a coherent foreign policy, with different factions supporting China, Russia, and Japan. Upon liberation in 1945, extreme ideological confrontation split the peninsula in two. Korea cannot afford to make the same mistake again.

 

[1] Gi-Wook Shin and Seong-Hyon Lee, “Op-Ed: In China, Xi Jinping Is Getting an Unprecedented Third Term. What Should the World Expect?”, Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-10-20/china-government-president-xi-jinping.
 

[3] U.S. Department of Defense, 2022 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America, October 2022, https://media.defense.gov/2022/Oct/27/2003103845/-1/-1/1/2022-NATIONAL-DEFENSE-STRATEGY-NPR-MDR.PDF.
 

[4] A recent survey of the South Korean public indicates that “only 43 percent of. . . respondents agree with this framework to some degree.” See Gi-Wook Shin, Haley M. Gordon, and Hannah June Kim, “South Korea Votes, Beijing Watches,” American Purpose, March 2, 2022, https://www.americanpurpose.com/articles/south-korea-votes-beijing-watches/. See also Gi-Wook Shin, “In the Wake of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, Korea Should Join Its Peers in Defending the Liberal International Order,” Shorenstein APARC, June 1, 2022, https://fsi.stanford.edu/news/wake-russia%E2%80%99s-invasion-ukraine-korea-should-join-its-peers-defending-liberal-international.
 

[5] ROK Presidential Office, “President Yoon’s Opening Remarks at the ASEAN Summit” [in Korean], November 11, 2022, https://www.korea.kr/news/policyNewsView.do?newsId=148908196.
 

[6] PRC State Council, “Notice of the State Council on the Publication of ‘Made in China 2025’,” May 8, 2015. Translation provided by Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Georgetown University, https://cset.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/t0432_made_in_china_2025_EN.pdf
 

[7] “China to Raise Defense Spending by 7.1% to $229 Billion,” AP News, March 5, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/business-china-congress-d03b477b646b055241e7712f86bacee6.
 

[8] Xi Jinping, “The Historic Mission of the Chinese Communist Party in this New Era,” Qiushi, September 30, 2022, http://www.qstheory.cn/dukan/qs/2022-09/30/c_1129040825.htm. The original text reads “今天,我们比历史上任何时期都更接近、更有信心和能力实现中华民族伟大复兴的目标”.
 

[9] For the full text, see Secure 5G and Beyond Act of 2020, Pub. L. No. 116–129, 134 Stat. 223 (2020), https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/PLAW-116publ129/pdf/PLAW-116publ129.pdf.
 

[10] U.S. Department of State, “Designation of the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a Foreign Mission of the PRC,” August 13, 2020, https://2017-2021.state.gov/designation-of-the-confucius-institute-u-s-center-as-a-foreign-mission-of-the-prc/index.html.
 

[11] Christine Huang, Laura Silver, and Laura Clancy, “China’s Partnership With Russia Seen as Serious Problem for the U.S.,” Pew Research Center, April 28, 2022, https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2022/04/28/chinas-partnership-with-russia-seen-as-serious-problem-for-the-us/.
 

[12] The White House, “Fact Sheet: CHIPS and Science Act Will Lower Costs, Create Jobs, Strengthen Supply Chains, and Counter China,” August 9, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/08/09/fact-sheet-chips-and-science-act-will-lower-costs-create-jobs-strengthen-supply-chains-and-counter-china/.
 

[13] Kinling Lo, “US Chips Act Bars American Companies in China from Building ‘Advanced Tech’ Factories for 10 years,” South China Morning Post, September 7, 2022, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/3191596/us-chips-act-bars-american-companies-china-building-advanced-tech.
 

[14] Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, “Chinese Investment into the US and EU Has Plummeted since 2016,” Peterson Institute for International Economics, September 16, 2019. https://www.piie.com/research/piie-charts/chinese-investment-us-and-eu-has-plummeted-2016.
 

[15] The dynamism of its universities also provides the United States with a significant advantage. See Gi-Wook Shin, “Why Korea’s Future Depends on Its Universities,” Shorenstein APARC, October 13, 2022, https://fsi.stanford.edu/news/why-korea%E2%80%99s-future-depends-its-universities.
 

[16] Tuvia Gering, “Discourse Power,” May 30, 2022, https://discoursepower.substack.com/p/discourse-power-may-30-2022.
 

[17] Shin, “In the Wake of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine.”
 

[19] President Yoon, after a meeting with President Biden, was caught on a hot mic using an expletive in reference to members of the ROK National Assembly.

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Striking the Right Balance: What South Korea Can Do to Enhance Deterrence in the Taiwan Strait

Despite obstacles and risks, there are good reasons why South Korea should want to increase deterrence against China. In a new article, Center Fellow Oriana Skylar Mastro and co-author Sungmin Cho chart an optimal strategy for Seoul to navigate the U.S.-China rivalry and support efforts to defend Taiwan.
Striking the Right Balance: What South Korea Can Do to Enhance Deterrence in the Taiwan Strait
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In China, Xi Jinping Is Getting an Unprecedented Third Term. What Should the World Expect?

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As U.S.-China tensions escalate, Korea must chart a new path.

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South Korea aspires to achieve the status of a global vaccine hub as a national strategic policy priority. South Korea’s biomanufacturing industry has ramped up the development and production of therapeutic treatments and vaccines to meet the public health demands of the pandemic. The government has responded by promoting public-private partnerships to expand vaccine production capacity to meet current and future needs domestically and abroad in LMICs. To bolster this strategy, the government has entered into partnerships with international organizations, namely the WHO, ADB, and IVI, by establishing training hub programs for a global biomanufacturing workforce in 2022.

This paper examines South Korea’s mechanisms and strategy towards becoming a vaccine hub, the origins of which predate the Covid-19 pandemic but were again spurred by vaccine nationalism and challenges to access early in the pandemic.

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Thomas Byrne
Claire Callahan
Irene Kyoung
Salomé Da Silva Duarte Lepez
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Book cover of Privilege and Anxiety by Hagen Koo
The middle classes in most advanced economies today are frequently described as being “squeezed” and “shrinking.”  Hagen Koo’s recent book, Privilege and Anxiety, examines what has happened to the Korean middle class in the era of rapid globalization and demonstrates that the middle class experiences far more complex changes than usually assumed. Koo argues that globalization inserts an axis of polarization into the middle class, separating a small minority that benefits from the globalized economy and a large majority that suffers from it. This internal differentiation generates new class dynamics, as the newly affluent seek to distinguish themselves from the rest of the middle class and establish a new, privileged class position. The rest of the middle class tries to follow the affluent’s class practices, suffering great anxieties and frustrations. The middle class thus turns into an arena of intense class distinction struggles, bringing great anxieties to both the affluent and the lower segments of the middle.

 

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Portrait of Hagen Koo
Hagen Koo is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Born in Korea, Koo received his BA in Korea and briefly worked as a journalist before coming to America where he received a PhD at Northwestern University. He has published extensively on economic development and social change in South Korea. His major work includes Korean Workers: The Culture and Politics of Class Formation (Cornell University Press, 2001). After his retirement in 2017, he spends more time in Korea studying the changing social fabric of Korean society in the global era. Privilege and Anxiety (Cornell University Press, 2022) represents his most recent work.

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Alek Sigley is a PhD student at Stanford University's Modern Thought and Literature program, where he is writing a dissertation on North Korea. From 2018-2019 he studied for a master's degree in contemporary North Korean fiction at Kim Il Sung University's College of Literature. He speaks Mandarin, Korean and Japanese. Follow him on Twitter @AlekSigley.

Elisa Kim is a PhD candidate in the department of sociology at Stanford University. Her dissertation theorizes on racialization by systematically investigating the portrayal of minority groups in South Korean newspapers across time using computational methods. Prior to the PhD, she majored in Asian American Studies at Pomona College and has an MA in East Asian Studies from Stanford, researching the relational landscape of North Korean human rights organizations.

Gi-Wook Shin

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Taiwan is currently the single biggest point of contention in U.S.-China relations, and U.S. allies have a crucial role to play in efforts to prevent a great-power war over the island. South Korea, however, has remained relatively ambiguous about its willingness to support U.S. efforts to push back against China’s growing influence in the region, including in the Taiwan Strait. As the Yoon administration is now creating an opening for a more proactive approach, what can South Korea do in a Taiwan contingency?

A new article in The Washington Quarterly provides a framework for analyzing South Korea’s potential role in this era of strategic competition through the lens of war over Taiwan. The authors — Oriana Skylar Mastro, a Center Fellow at APARC, and Sungmin Cho, a professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies — build upon traditional concepts of balancing to create a nuanced, operationally relevant strategy for South Korea to contribute to the defense of Taiwan.

They explain South Korea’s approach to the Taiwan issue to date; evaluate South Korea’s strategic importance and what it can do to support U.S.-led efforts to compete with China; explore how China and North Korea may respond to increased South Korean cooperation with the United States, along with the potential obstacles this cooperation could create; and recommend ways to leverage the US-ROK alliance to enhance deterrence against China with respect to Taiwan.


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There are politically feasible options for South Korea to greatly contribute to US-integrated deterrence in the Taiwan Strait.
Oriana Skylar Mastro and Sungmin Cho

Mastro and Cho recognize that it is operationally and politically infeasible for South Korea to fight side-by-side with U.S. forces against China in a Taiwan scenario or to build its military sufficiently to deter Chinese aggression against Taipei. South Korean strategists must also consider the costs of China’s and North Korea’s potential responses to greater South Korean involvement in defending Taiwan. Still, Seoul can play a significant role in deterring Chinese aggression.

According to Mastro and Cho, South Korea’s optimal strategy to navigate the U.S.-China rivalry should meet two conditions. First, it should contribute to the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, including deterring Chinese aggression against Taiwan. Second, it should be able to make China hesitate to take punitive actions against South Korea. Thus, South Korea can provide rear-area support to the United States, such as intelligence gathering, ammunition supplies, or noncombatant evacuation. It can also support the strategic flexibility of US Forces Korea (USFK) and be more proactive in deterring North Korean aggression and provocation to free up U.S. resources to focus on China in a contingency scenario.

Moreover, South Korea could contribute toward forms of “collective resilience” against China’s economic statecraft, such as collective economic sanctions, and leverage its position as one of the world’s leading producers of advanced semiconductors to complicate China’s calculus. Finally, Seoul’s diplomatic support of U.S.-led efforts to defend Taiwan can influence Beijing to take seriously the international community’s potential united response against any attempt to invade Taiwan.

“Given the heightened urgency over tensions in the Taiwan Strait, Washington and Seoul should pursue these options immediately to maintain peace and stability in the region before it is too late,” the authors conclude.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping is applauded by senior members of the government and delegates.
Commentary

In China, Xi Jinping Is Getting an Unprecedented Third Term. What Should the World Expect?

Xi's plans are long term and unlikely to shift, but he can now be more aggressive than before in their pursuit.
In China, Xi Jinping Is Getting an Unprecedented Third Term. What Should the World Expect?
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Despite obstacles and risks, there are good reasons why South Korea should want to increase deterrence against China. In a new article, Center Fellow Oriana Skylar Mastro and co-author Sungmin Cho chart an optimal strategy for Seoul to navigate the U.S.-China rivalry and support efforts to defend Taiwan.

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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.

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Journal Articles
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The Washington Quarterly
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Oriana Skylar Mastro
Sungmin Cho
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