Economic Nationalism in South Korea and Taiwan: Examining Identity Discourse and Threat Perceptions towards Japan after the Second World War (1960s–1970s)

Published date01 August 2018
Date01 August 2018
DOI10.1177/2347797018783110
Economic Nationalism
in South Korea and
Taiwan: Examining Identity
Discourse and Threat
Perceptions towards
Japan after the Second
World War (1960s–1970s)
Christina Lai1
Abstract
South Korea and Taiwan provide fruitful comparisons in political economy.
During the Cold War era, they deepened their trade with Japan. However,
the top political leaders in those places exhibited different levels of threat percep-
tions towards Japan. Why did the leaders formulate their discourse towards
Japan so differently in the post-Cold War era? The role of nationalism is salient
during their economic take-off periods. The motivations behind these develop-
mental strategies and the discourse used to justify such national growth cannot
be excluded from the studies of comparative politics and political economy. This
article examines the political discourses of two dictators—Park Chung-hee in
South Korea and Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan—and shows how they justified their
policies towards Japan while establishing economic nationalism at the same time.
It concludes with findings that are relevant to recent development in comparative
studies, and it offers policy implications for East Asian security.
Keywords
Economic nationalism, East Asian politics, discourse analysis, South Korea, Taiwan
Comparing is ‘learning’ from the experience of others and, conversely, that he who
knows only one country knows none.
—Sartori (1991, p. 245)
Article
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
5(2) 149–171
2018 SAGE Publications India
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
sagepub.in/home.nav
DOI: 10.1177/2347797018783110
http://journals.sagepub.com/home/aia
1 Lecturer, Global Security Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC, USA.
Corresponding author:
Christina Lai, Lecturer, Global Security Studies, Johns Hopkins University, 1717 Massachusetts
Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA.
E-mail: clai26@jhu.edu
150 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 5(2)
Introduction
The contemporary history of South Korea and Taiwan is closely related as they
were both Japanese colonies until the end of the Second World War. When the
Qing dynasty lost the Sino-Japanese War, Taiwan was ceded to Japan under the
treaty of Shimonoseki, through which Korea terminated its tribute to China.
Japan’s triumph over China also marked its status as a great power in East Asia.
When Japan won the Russo-Japanese war in 1905, it gained significant influence
over the Korean Peninsula. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea and assumed full control
over Korea’s government and military. The study focuses on how South Korea
and Taiwan, which later experienced significant economic growth from the 1960s
to 1970s, justified their economic policies towards a former empire in Asia.
South Korea and Taiwan provide fruitful comparisons in terms of economic
development. Namely, these two countries executed two kinds of developmental
strategies that successfully exemplified ‘economic miracles in East Asia’.
Previous studies on Asian politics have mainly focused on the pattern of develop-
mental strategies and the advantage of state-led capitalism, and few have looked
at how political discourse on identity affects the making of foreign economic
policy (Amsden, 2001; Johnson, 1987; Kang, 2002; Wade, 1990).
During the Cold War era, when they encountered similar geopolitical confron-
tations against communists’ aggressions, both Taiwan and South Korea deepened
their trade with Japan. However, the top political leaders in those places exhibited
different levels of threat perceptions towards Japan. Why did the leaders in
South Korea and Taiwan formulate their discourse towards Japan so differently
in the post-Cold War era? For example, Chiang Kai-shek maintained close ties
with former Japanese military officers even after his retreat to Taiwan, while
Park Chung-hee forcefully banned Japan music and literature to preserve the
distinctiveness of South Korea traditions (Jung, 2015). Moreover, when Japan
surrendered at the end of the Second World War, Chiang made a public speech
urging ‘don’t use force against force’, and he stated that the good people of
Japan were ‘by no means enemies’ and must correct the errors of crimes
(Yamaguchi, 1971, p. 555).
The variation of their economic nationalisms has not received much attention
in the studies of political economic and Asian studies. Scholars have been either
preoccupied with the comparative advantages in the models of the developmental
states or failed to analyse the discourse systematically. This article provides the
first step towards understanding the causes of differences in the South Korea’s
and Taiwan’s economic nationalism, and explaining their legitimation strategies
towards Japan in the post-Cold War environment.
In Pathways after Empire: National Identity and Foreign Economic Policy in
the Post-Soviet World, Andrei Tsygankov examines the economic policies of the
three post-Soviet countries—Latvia, Ukraine and Belarus—from 1991 to 1996,
and compares their prior experiences with national independence from Russia
(Tsygankov, 2001). He argues that a stronger national identity led to a trade policy
that pulled away from the former empire (Russia), while a weaker sense of
national identity led to strengthened economic ties with Russia.

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