Despite being non-claimants in the South China Sea, Japan and South Korea have deep interests in the region. ASEAN-led frameworks empower them to be players in the South China Sea dispute. The two countries responded differently to this issue in the mid-2010s, however. Japan has been actively involved in the South China Sea dispute and taken positions on many subject matters; whereas South Korea has remained ambiguous and silent despite pressure from the United States. In the context of great power competition, the divergence in the two countries' South China Sea policy is more clearly demonstrated by Japan's link with the United States and South Korea's delink with the United States. Adopting the theoretical approach of role theory, this paper analyzes Japan and South Korea’s role in the South China Sea and explores how role conceptions of policy fields shape their behavior in this area. The comparative study suggests that Japan and South Korea adopt different roles in the South China Sea: Japan is an active agent, seeking to demonstrate its presence in the region; and South Korea is an inactive agent whose motivation lies in keeping a distance from the issue. This finding contributes to the role theory literature on how role conception can affect a state’s behavior in specific situations, and provides a different perspective to understand regional countries’ behavior in the face of power transitions.
Shuqi Wang, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
About the Presenter(s)
Shuqi Wang is a Ph.D. candidate at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, specializing in international security and alliance politics. Her current research explores U.S. allies' policy alignment amid great power competition.
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