Minkyun Park

Ontological Insecurity in South Korea and its Relations to Japan 

©RUB, Marquard

South Korea (Korea) has long been regarded as a shrimp between two whales – China and Japan. Due to its dramatic economic growth, democratization and recent K-pop fever around the globe, it starts to be recognized as a shrimp that turned in to a whale. What is puzzling, however, is that it seems to still struggle between China and Japan with regard to its identity, resulting in an insecure shrimp inside.

South Korea presents a unique case for ontological security perspectives or identity perspective in general. Its modern history is full of identity shifts. Before Japanese colonialism in 1910, it was regarded as a subordinate state under Chinese empire. Then under Japanese colonialism, Korea was branded with colonial identity. During the Cold War, anti-communism was staged by the state as the core of its identity due to the Korean War. My assumption is that identity was rather given or forced to South Korea before its democratization in 1987 either through China, Japan, the U.S. and/or its own dictators. And it was only after 1987 that as a democracy, there have been a rise of politics of Korean Identities and Selves, including perceptions of a self-assertive future. Since democratizations there have been often shifts of governments between progressives and conservatives, which hold different views on what it means to be Korean and towards its neighboring countries – China and Japan. Its enduring problems with these relationships will be analyzed in this study with a view of the impact of future perceptions for ontological security and insecurity.