Richard Haass comments in A World in Disarray that when viewing the world through the prism of regionality, “Many of the most important economic, military, and diplomatic interactions take place at this level for the simple reason that proximity counts.” I was reminded of his comment by an article in today’s Wall Street Journal that indicates that the South Korean government is allowing one of its largest companies, LG, to build a OLED production facility in China, which the Journal states will be “the first-ever [sic] transfer of the sophisticated display technology outside the country.” The Chinese produce OLED technology, but currently lack South Korea’s sophistication.
Although the Journal further reports that the South Korean government has cautioned LG to increase its security to protect the technology, presumably all realize how futile those efforts will be for a factory placed in China. In an admirably understated fashion, the article indicates that South Korea and China have warming diplomatic and economic relations, driven in part by a desire to have a coordinated policy regarding North Korea.
Referring back to a recent post, I would suggest that this South Korean decision is simply a manifestation of that government’s assessment of global realities. It is at the epicenter of the quake that could result from the acrimonious exchanges of two mercurial leaders; it may well feel uneasy (understandably) about the United States’ willingness to defend it; it has very likely determined (rationally) that China can do more than the United States to protect it against North Korean aggression; and it has apparently decided (certainly uneasily) that in the current bellicose atmosphere, there is less risk from China ultimately attempting to exploit their closer ties to sap its economic and political freedoms than there is that North Korea will take cataclysmic action affecting the lives of its citizens.
While – since proximity counts, and China is the dominant Asian power – South Korea may in coming years have begun to establish closer ties with China in any event, it’s hard not to conclude that these sorts of diplomatic shifts will occur at an accelerating rate due to the visceral perception that the U.S., despite its occasional protestations to the contrary, is in the process of disengaging from many of its traditional alliances.