Trade Wars & Currency Conflict: Northeast Asian States Responses to U.S. Pressures

China, Japan, and South Korea are the biggest exporters of East Asia. Together, their exports account for 22.6 percent of total US trade. Time and again, the US has imposed punitive tariffs or exercised political pressures to elevate currency values or levels of intellectual property enforcement on countries that it runs trade deficits with. East Asian countries have in turn been prime targets for ‘bashing’ by US policymakers at the height of export growths, but their policy responses have not been uniform.

The US places a great policy emphasis on decreasing trade deficits with East Asia. The US also warns against East Asian currency manipulation that may act as disadvantage for US exporters. Yet explanations for different East Asian policy responses to US protectionist pressures remain inadequate. The question of why East Asian countries have distinctive responses to US pressures has been scrutinized by scholars of international relations and area studies. Their answers have enhanced our understanding of East Asian patterns of responding to the US. Yet much of the scholarly and policy debates has focused on geopolitical factors as the source of diverse policy responses from East Asia. Moreover, scholars have primarily relied on single or two country comparisons, contrasting mainly China and Japan.

By including South Korea – a major global economic player that has received lesser scholarly attention – in a three-country comparison, this book fills the research gap with clear-cut, detailed elaborations on the variation of East Asian policy responses to the US. Analyzing East Asian country responses – each at the culmination of economic confrontation with the US – from cases of US-initiated bilateral trade disputes via the USITC and the WTO to US-initiated bilateral negotiations on currency appreciation in attempts to decrease trade deficits, this book project challenges the East Asian studies scholarship heavily rooted in geopolitical analysis, and argues instead that institutional variance in policymaking has led to Japan’s acquiescence, South Korea’s refutation, and China’s escalation in conflicts with the United States.

This book project is based on years of on-site research consisting of interviews with government officials, policy analysts, academics, and business persons in addition to archival research in Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, and Washington, DC (2010-17).

The Puzzle: Trade Wars and Currency Conflict
The Puzzle

Policy Relevance
Brief History in Five Common Stages
Contribution to the Literature
Explanations: Institutional Variance in Trade & Monetary Policymaking
Methodology: Process-Tracing, Causal Case Studies & Data Visualization
Case Studies: Japan, South Korea, China
Argument: Institutional Variance
1) Theoretical Framework of Institutional Variance
Political Systems and Decision Making Patterns
Executive and Bureaucratic Autonomy Levels
Breakdown of Bureaucratic Actors
Policy Preferences of Dominant Decision Makers
Legal Foundations
Civil Society Involvement
2) Typology of Institutional Variance
Japan: Acquiescence
South Korea: Refutation
China: Escalation
Origins of the US Economic Pressures on Northeast Asia and Their Responses
The Sources of US Protectionist Measures

Northeast Asian Trade Remedy Measures under the GATT and the WTO

Varied Pathways Toward Responses in the WTO Dispute Settlement System 

Currency Appreciation Pressures via the US Treasury and the IMF
Japan: “Acquiesce”
‘Hub-and-Spokes’ Trade Technocracy in a Parliamentary System
Decision-making Process: Hub-and-spoke
Policy Preference: “Settle than file.”
Trade Remedy
WTO Trade Disputes
Japanese Yen in the Plaza Accord and Abenomics
South Korea: “Refute”
‘VIP-driven’ Trade Bureaucracy from Dictatorship to Presidential System
Decision-making Process: Circular Coordination
Policy Preference: “Prove them wrong.”
Trade Remedy
WTO Trade Disputes
South Korean Won in the 1980s-90s and Financial Crises
China: "Escalate"
‘Principal-Agent’ Trade Bureaucracy under an Authoritarian System
Decision-making Process: Top-down
Policy Preference: “Strike back just as hard.”
Trade Remedy
WTO Trade Disputes
Chinese Yuan in the Strategic & Economic Dialogues with the United States
Economies of Scale


Conclusion: US Pressures and Northeast Asian Responses

Upcoming Book Project Workshops and Meetings

  • Harvard IGLP Scholars Workshop, Book Prospectus review with faculty advisers (Bangkok: January 6-10, 2019)

Past Book Project Workshops and Meetings

  • APSA Annual Meeting and Convention, Book Exhibition and Meetings with Editors (Boston: August 30-September 2, 2018)
    • Presentation of Chapter 1, International Relations and East Asia (IREA) Online Colloquium via Google Hangouts (February 6, 2018)
    • 2017 Wesleyan Conference on East Asia (Spring 2017)
    • APSA Annual Meeting and Convention, Book Exhibition and Meetings with Editors (Philadelphia: September 1-4, 2016; San Francisco: September 1-3, 2017)
    • International Publishing Workshop, Asia Pacific Early Career Researchers Program, ISA Asia-Pacific Conference (June 24, 2016)