One theme that pops up from time to time in the study of Korean history is the notion of Korea as an underdog or a victim, or the idea that Korea and its people are often overlooked or underestimated, especially when assessed in the context of Asia as a whole. The case can certainly be made that this perspective is justified. Reputable think tanks around DC concentrate heavily on China and Japan while paying little attention to the peninsula in between the two; Korea-related courses at the Elliott School are comparatively few; and even news from the peninsula of tremendous consequence to national security, such as a North Korean nuclear test, quickly fade from the headlines here at home.
Korea exists in relative obscurity for many, despite the ROK's tremendous economic relevance, both globally and regionally, and its significance to U.S. security interests. It has been one of top ten strongest economies in the world in recent years (Chosun Ilbo) and a significant trade partner for the United States for quite some time. It retains its title as our "ally" despite increasingly tenuous times for the United States in international diplomacy, and equally challenging times for the bilateral relationship itself.
Nonetheless, this recent article suggests that the ROK and the Korean Peninsula as a whole will continue to remain under the radar. India (and to a lesser extent, Russia) continue to climb the economic rankings and India has recently deposed South Korea as Asia's third largest economy. The report speculates that the predominant power on the subcontinent, and Russia, will soon surpass South Korea and push it out of the top twelve largest economies in the world. While economic growth in those two countries is perhaps a little less stable than elsewhere, for me the article seems to reassure that Korea will continue in its role of secondary significance for many international scholars and policy-makers that deal with the region.
I've framed the significance of this shift in a "neglected Korea" type of construct. But outside of this lens, does such a shift matter? Arguably, the content of the article is more relevant for India than the ROK. Nonetheless, where does this "always the bride's maid, never the bride" kind of existence for the peninsula come from? I don't think I've imagined it. Is it a consequence of external factors in the international system prioritizing U.S. interests away from the Peninsula? Does the fact that the US-ROK relationship and Korea's development have been fairly stable and consistent mean that they merit less attention? Perhaps the next few months will reveal some answers.