A global economic p(l)ayer? Assessing South Korea's role in South-East Asia

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


After several decades as Asia’s backwater and basket case of international development, Myanmar was thrust to the center stage of international attention in 2011. The country’s political opening has paved the way for greater engagement by international actors, old and new. South Korea is no exception, with Seoul doubling its development assistance, trade volume and investment in less than five years. Myanmar serves as an excellent vantage point to observe Korea’s evolving role in international affairs, especially in terms of its Asian engagement. Drawing on both quantitative and qualitative data on aid, trade, investment and cultural diplomacy the paper shows that pragmatism drives the relationship, with Nay Pyi Taw trying to diversify its foreign policy and attract more investment, while Seoul seeks to expand foreign economic relations, extend the domestic market and secure access to new resources. The paper’s main contention is that while striving to articulate a distinctive regional and global role for itself, turning economic relationships into political ones has proven difficult, and thus, Seoul remains more of a ‘payer’ than a ‘player.’ The paper also probes the argument by looking at two other countries where Korea has recently stepped up its engagement, namely Laos and Cambodia.
Period4 Jul 20197 Jul 2019
Held atInternational Studies Association (ISA), United States
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Korea
  • South-East Asia
  • Myanmar
  • aid
  • inter-Asian connectedness
  • trade
  • investment
  • economic player