Korea, Relations with

views updated May 17 2018


The first contact between Russia and Korea can be traced to the seventeenth century, but it was only from 1858 to 1861, when Russia established its control over the lower Amur River and acquired a short (8.7-mile [14-kilometer]) land border with Korea that the interaction of the two countries began in earnest. Formal diplomatic relations were established on July 7, 1884, when a Russo-Korean Treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed in Seoul.

From 1890 to 1905, Korea featured prominently in Russian diplomatic designs as a major target of economic and political expansion in the Far East. Russia was also heavily involved in Korean domestic politics. Attempts to increase the Russian influence in Korea and Manchuria were among the reasons for the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 to 1905.

After the October Revolution in 1917, Soviet-Korean exchanges remained limited in scope. The Soviet Union was instrumental in the creation of the local communist movement in Korea. Moscow promoted the unification of leftist groups into the short-lived Korean Communist Party (created in 1925 and disbanded in 1928). In the 1930s the USSR also provided support to Korean communist guerrillas in Manchuria.

World War II led to a dramatic change in the situation. On August 11, 1945, the Soviet Army crossed the Korean border and within a week established control over the territory north of the 38th parallel (this parallel had been agreed upon with the U.S. command as a provisional demarcation line). Meanwhile, the southern half of Korea was occupied by U.S. forces in September. From 1945 to 1947 the Soviet and American governments made some progress toward a compromise over the future government of a united Korea. At the same time, the Soviet military administration was actively establishing a communist regime in the north.

The Soviet administration backed Kim Il Sung, a former Manchurian guerrilla commander who had served in the Red Army since 1942. After the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) was declared in September 1948, Russia was the first country to establish diplomatic relations with the new state (October 12, 1948). Relations with the south, where the Republic of Korea was proclaimed in 1948, were meanwhile completely frozen.

From 1948, Kim Il Sung lobbied Moscow for permission to attack the South. Initially these suggestions were rejected, but in late 1949 Josef Stalin approved the proposal. Russian advisers were sent to Pyongyang to plan the operations, which commenced on July 26, 1950. The North Korean armed forces were trained by Soviet advisers and equipped with Soviet weapons. During the war, the USSR also dispatched several units of fighter jets to fight on the North Korean side.

After the Korean War, Russia remained the main source of military and economic aid for North Korea. On July 6, 1961, a Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance was signed in Moscow. According to this treaty, Russia was obliged to protect the DPRK militarily in the event of a war (this clause was deleted from a new treaty signed in 2000).

In the late 1950s Kim Il Sung refused to follow the new policies of de-Stalinization. He skillfully used the Sino-Soviet rivalry to extricate North Korea from Soviet control and proceeded with the construction of his own brand of national Stalinism. North Korea remained neutral in the Sino-Soviet conflict and was more politically distant from the USSR than any other communist state apart from China and Albania. However, strategic considerations forced Moscow to continue with its economic aid to the North.

With the advent of perestroika, the changing strategic outlook led the USSR to seek rapprochement with the Republic of Korea (ROK), which was seen as an important trading partner. In the late 1980s the USSR engaged in numerous unofficial exchanges with Seoul, and on September 30, 1990, official diplomatic relations between the USSR and the ROK were finally established.

After the collapse of the USSR, the new Russian government refused to subsidize the trade with its erstwhile ally. Trade collapsed (from 2.3 billion USD in 1990 to 0.1 billion USD in 1995) and has remained insignificant ever since (0.1 billion USD in 2000). At the same time, attempts to influence the security situation in northeast Asia and other strategic considerations prompted Russia in the late 1990s to increase its diplomatic exchanges with the DPRK (including a visit by President Vladimir Putin in 2000).

Meanwhile Russian exchanges with the ROK were developing rapidly. By 2001 the trade volume between the two countries had reached $2.9 billion. South Korean companies imported raw materials, scrap metal, and seafood from Russia while selling finished goods, including consumer electronics, textiles, and cars.

See also: kal 007; koreans; korean war; putin, vladimir vladimirovich; russo-japanese war


Il Yung Chung, ed. (1992). Korea and Russia: Toward the 21st Century. Seoul: Sejong Institute.

Lensen George. (1982). Balance of Intrigue: International Rivalry in Korea & Manchuria, 18841899. Tallahassee: University Presses of Florida.

Ree, Erik van. (1989). Socialism in One Zone: Stalin's Policy in Korea, 19451947. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

Andrei Lankov

Korea, Relations with

views updated Jun 11 2018


KOREA, RELATIONS WITH. In August 1866, the American merchant W. B. Preston dispatched the General Sherman, a merchant ship, to a port in northern Korea demanding trade unilaterally, a private endeavor that did not officially involve the U.S. government. The entire crew died when the Hermit Kingdom had the ship set on fire. In two retaliatory campaigns during 1871, U.S. naval ships bombarded Korean forts, killing some 250 Koreans. The undeclared hostilities were settled by a treaty of commerce and amity in 1882. Yet military and diplomatic encounters failed to develop further as Korea soon became a target of Chinese, Japanese, and Russian imperialism. In 1910, it fell prey to Japanese military rule. Full-scale and enduring U.S.-Korean relations developed as a result of Japan's surrender at the close of World War II; the ensuing American military occupation of South Korea by 40,000 American personnel and servicemen (1945–1948); and the Korean War (1950–1953), which engaged about 1.6 million American servicemen. These events started a wave of Korean immigration consisting largely of some 20,000 Korean wives of U.S. servicemen and their children, who arrived in the United States from 1945 to 1965. Beginning in the 1950s, many American families adopted Korean war orphans. Also, the Immigration Act of 1965, with its family reunification provision, gave a tremendous boost to the presence of Korean Americans, who would surge from some 100,000 in 1965 to about 1.3 million at century's end.

Still, the major pillars of U.S.–South Korean relations after the Korean War were the U.S. security umbrella against external communist threats and the opening of U.S. markets to Korean exports. The Korea-gate scandal of 1976–1978, in which dozens of U.S. congressmen reputedly received bribes from lobbyists for the South Korean government, and diplomatic friction during the Jimmy Carter presidency over human rights abuses in South Korea, were just minor glitches. In fact, making the most of U.S. military, diplomatic, and economic commitments, South Koreans achieved annual economic growth of more than 9 percent for the three decades following the mid-1960s. From 1980, Korean exports to the United States underwent a structural changeover from nondurable consumer goods to consumer electronics and computers, high technology and durable goods, steel, and automobiles. Meanwhile, U.S. exports to Korea in the area of service industries and popular culture steadily grew relative to heavy industry and chemical products. Owing to South Korea's prosperity, the United States often scored trade surpluses in the 1990s; in the mid-1990s, they averaged $10 billion annually.

As of 2001, the United States had not established any formal diplomatic relationship with North Korea, a nation cut off from the noncommunist world for a half century. George W. Bush's administration practically brushed aside the Bill Clinton administration's efforts to bring North Korea to the diplomatic table to resolve any alleged threat of North Korea's development and sale of missiles and nuclear weapons.


Baldwin, Frank, ed. Without Parallel: The American-Korean Relationship since 1945. New York: Pantheon, 1974.

Lee, Yur-Bok, and Wayne Patterson, eds. One Hundred Years of Korean-American Relations, 1882–1982. University: University of Alabama Press, 1986.

Sutter, Robert, and Han Sungjoo. Korea-U.S. Relations in a Changing World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.


See alsoCold War ; Korea War of 1871 ; Korea-gate ; Korean Americans ; Korean War ; andvol. 9:War Story .