Korea’s Struggle for Neutrality amid Empires, 1882–1907
In Surviving Imperial Intrigues (Hawaii University Press, 2022), Sangpil Jin explores how successful Korean neutralization could have radically transformed the balance of power equation in East Asia. Jin argues that although never implemented, Korean neutralization had the potential to succeed during the British occupation of Kŏmundo (1885–1887). He further points out that neutralization has recently resurfaced as a possible option for a unified Korean state to preserve its strategic flexibility amidst the US pivot to Asia and China’s re-emergence as a potential hegemon in the region.
While neutralization is the focal point of the book, Jin also analyzes Korea’s complex and layered relations with China, Japan, Russia, and the United States, within the overall framework of Sino-Japanese, Anglo-Russian, and Russo-Japanese rivalries. A periphery state in the contemporary international system, Korea was forced to navigate through intricate diplomatic relations with major imperial powers. The timespan of his study stretching from 1882 to 1907 reflects his unique periodization that offers a groundbreaking view of Korean diplomatic history from a more regional geography paradigm. This book serves as a historical guide for both specialists and policymakers who require a nuanced grasp of the new era of geopolitical shift, likely dominated by the two powers (China and the United States) that possess a distinct understanding of the norms and structure of the international order.