GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Small is Beautiful: South Korean-Gulf Relations as an Example of Strategic Engagement by Players in Different Arenas
Paper Proposal Text :
Unlike many Asian countries that engage with the Gulf region, the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea) is usually perceived as being limited to a different subsystem of international relations, with internal dynamics that hardly overlap with those of the Gulf region. National traumata, apprehensions, and the national interest are primarily defined by the North-East Asian triangle of China, Japan and Russia, with North Korea a focal point in its midst.
Nevertheless, Korea can look back on a long history of sustained engagement with the Gulf region, ranging from the construction-driven labor migration of the 70s and 80s via the pioneering LNG projects of the 90s up to the present day, in which the ROK continues to skillfully develop a set of relationships that stretches over different fields of activities, ranging from business, science and technology, all the way to an ambitious and well-coordinated cultural diplomacy: by projecting a non-threatening mirror image of rapid development from pre-modern backwater to post-modern powerhouse, Korea has been able to make use of strategic opportunities in the Gulf region, achieving market access for increasingly sophisticated products, cementing its energy security, and setting the stage for mutually beneficial exchanges that promise to yield further fruits. It has achieved this through long-term commitments to complex pioneering projects, which have allowed its GCC partners to achieve strategic objectives and upgrade their own capabilities. Since the early 2000s, the country has made concerted efforts to cultivate the Gulf, and has recently entered into a closer relationship with the UAE, which has been supported by intense exchanges in the field of cultural diplomacy.
This paper uses statistical data, a survey of Korean and GCC media discourses, participant observation and interview data from the Gulf region in order to document the ongoing evolution of the Korea-GCC relationship.
Historical statistics on labor migration, and energy import patterns predict a prominent role for certain GCC countries, which is, however, not borne out by the development of media discourses in more recent years, which point to a significant preponderance of the UAE in the Korean portfolio of GCC partners. The strategic interactions behind these are further illustrated by an assessment of the concomitant public diplomacy, be it relating to cultural activities and language teaching or with respect to the embedding of mammoth projects such as the nuclear reactor deal.
Among Asian countries, the ROK is shown to be distinguished by a number of stylized facts: (1) A vital US alliance in its regional context limits its choice of Gulf partners to those compatible with this strategic bond. (2) Technological sophistication makes it a formidable competitor for other technologically advanced East Asian nations, in particular Japan, as well as for non-Asian nations. (3) Its energy dependence on the Gulf region assures a strong commitment to its Gulf relationships, without, however, posing a demographic threat in the way South Asian countries might. Nor is there any expectation of future military threats. (4) Alliances with the ROK are non-exclusionary and do not limit the choice of other partners for the countries it engages with. (5) Coordination between private and public sector has enabled Korean actors to propose complex solutions that develop and refine GCC demand and capabilities. To the extent that these outperform competitors in price, quality and depth of engagement, they raise the bar for all other actors, Asian or otherwise, pursuing a strategic relationship in the Gulf region.
In accounting for these facts in a unified framework, the paper moves from mechanistic, endowment-based to dynamic models of international relations, in which the emergent agency of niche players can generate win-win strategies that may be hard to replicate for major international powers, but do provide a model for successful international policymaking by medium-sized actors in an emerging multipolar world.