South Korea–United States relations

South Korea–United States relations

South Korea–United States relations have been most extensive since 1948, when the United States helped establish democracy in South Korea and fought on its UN-sponsored side in the Korean War (1950–1953). During the subsequent four decades, South Korea experienced tremendous economic, political and military growth, and reduced US dependency. Since the late 1980s, the country has instead sought to establish an American partnership, which has made the Seoul-Washington relationship subject to some strains.

Historical background

In the mid-19th century Korea closed its borders to Western trade. In the General Sherman Incident, Korean forces attacked a US gunboat sent to negotiate a trade treaty and killed its crew, after it defied instructions from Korean officials. A US retribution attack, the Sinmiyangyo, followed.

Korea and the US ultimately established trade relations in 1882. Relations soured again when the US negotiated peace in the Russo-Japanese War. In 1905, Japan persuaded the US to accept Korea as part of Japan's sphere of influence, and the US did not protest when Japan annexed Korea five years later. Korean nationalists petitioned the US to support their cause at the Versailles Treaty conference under Woodrow Wilson's principle of national self-determination, without success.

The US divided Korea after World War II along the 38th parallel, intending it as a temporary measure. However, the breakdown of relations between the US and USSR prevented a reunification.


In late 1980s, the United States was South Korea's largest and most important trading partner. South Korea was the seventh-largest market for US goods and the second-largest market for its agricultural products. A Korean trade surplus represented the evolving imbalance between the countries. Although Seoul gave in to Washington's demands to avoid being designated as a "Priority Foreign Country", economic policymakers in Seoul resented this unilateral threat. They also feared that the PFC designation would fuel anti-Americanism throughout South Korea.

Free Trade Agreement

The two nations began negotiations on a U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement in 2006 and reached an agreement in April 2007. It is analyzed by some experts that the president Roh Moo-hyun decided to launch on the FTA with US not just to boost economy, but rather, to tighten friendlier relationship with US, which arguably had been impaired by series of disagreements on, among others, how to deal with North Korean nuclear weapons.


Diplomats in both countries maintained that US forces should remain in South Korea as long as Seoul wanted them. Not only did 94 percent of South Koreans (at its highest) support the presence of the forces, but even the vocal opposition parties favoured a continued US military presence in South Korea. Stability in the peninsula, they argued, had been maintained because strong Seoul-Washington military cooperation deterred further aggression.

Other policymakers felt that American troops should gradually be leaving the country. They argued that South Korea in the late 1980s was more capable of coping with North Korea which has a far smaller economy. In Washington, meanwhile, an increasing number of United States politicians advocated troop withdrawal for budgetary reasons. The consultations on restructuring the Washington-Seoul security relationship held during Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney's February 1990 visit to South Korea marked the beginning of the change in status of US forces - from a leading to a supporting role in the country's defense.

See also

* List of Korea-related topics
* Politics of South Korea
* Foreign relations of South Korea
* Foreign relations of the United States
* North Korean-American relations
* U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement


External links

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