- Dissertation Work
‘TRADE WARS & CURRENCY CONFLICT: China, Japan, and South Korea’s Responses to U.S. Protectionism, 1973-2013′
1 Motivation for Proposed Dissertation Research
Why are bilateral trade and currency conflicts waged, and how are they different from one another? For decades, countries that seem to have the most vibrant, active, and strategic partnerships and economic relationships have developed conflictual trade and currency relations, which led to suing each other on trade issues in domestic courts and international disputes or confronting each other over their exchange rate policies. We have learned over the years through prior cases that bilateral trade deficits are the main cause of U.S. protectionism. Previously, the U.S. has had significant trade and currency conflicts with Japan and South Korea; now, the U.S. is engaged in high-stakes confrontation with China. Unlike resource-rich countries like Saudi Arabia, agricultural-affluent economies like France, and services-oriented economies like Switzerland, these countries have something in common: they are export-oriented economies that excel in manufacturing that have faced severe U.S. protectionist measures.
But due to the differing political capacity and strategic industrial interests of trading partners, the responses to U.S. protectionism have not been uniform. I compare three U.S. trade and currency conflicts with export-led economies of Northeast Asia – China, Japan, and South Korea in the past four decades in chronological order: U.S.-Japan (1970s-80s), U.S.-South Korea (1980s-90s), and U.S.-China (2000s-10s), with two critical junctures of the Asian Financial Crisis (1997-98) and the Global Financial Crisis (2008-11) in consideration. I provide an answer as to why, time and again, U.S. protectionism has recurred in the age of free trade and liberalization, and why countries have responded differently. The ultimate goal of this comparison is to derive policy implications as to whether a single protectionist strategy fits for all trading partners, and to assess whether a consistent policy of protectionism is beneficial for the United States.
1.1 Trade Wars
For many observers in the U.S., each new trade and currency confrontation with an East Asian trading partner can create a sense of déjà vu. From the U.S. perspective, they may look the same because they were born out of trade deficits, but the severity of the deficits differ significantly in terms of scale of bilateral trade and deficit, composition of trade, and dynamics of conflict. But blinded by these aforementioned apparent factors, we fail to recognize that trade wars are inherently different owing to the varied policy responses upon U.S. coercion. In the case of Japan, South Korea, and China, the three countries have responded at various times by acquiescing, reciprocating, and retaliating to U.S. trade dispute initiation. Simply put, trade imbalances matters to the U.S. in general, but the same protectionist measures may not harvest the same outcomes due to the varieties of political circumstances and industrial interests. Analyzing this variation, both over time periods and across countries, can contribute not only to our academic understanding of the dynamics of trade and currency conflicts, but will also contribute policy-relevant lessons that may reduce the contentiousness of future confrontations.
1.2 Currency Conflict
In addition, I address why the three countries have responded differently to currency conflict. I first unravel how trade and finance are intertwined in policymaking. For years, U.S. bilateral trade deficits with East Asian economies have led to political pressure for currency appreciation, as bilateral trade deficits have been presented as evidence of undervaluation of currencies. These pressures have been particularly prevalent on countries that have maintained currency controls and that have had highly-regulated domestic financial systems. In the case of Japan and South Korea, they involved occasionally coercive negotiations to promote financial liberalization and deregulation. Japan acquiesced with its own benefits in mind, and South Korea also acquiesced somewhat but failed to be strategic in its policy making. Today, China faces and resists the same pressures, but China has different answers and motivations. As in the case of trade wars, the crux and objective of the research is in unraveling how differently each country has responded to the currency debates by the changes in their exchange rate policies upon the push for financial opening.
2 Methodology and Data
I rely upon two types of systematic comparisons to analyze the causality of the argument: first, temporal comparisons for each country to analyze similarities across countries in response to U.S. protectionism emanating from trade deficit accumulation; second, national comparisons to analyze differences across countries (different economic development and reform paths). In all three countries, I rely upon two main sources of data: first, interviews with key political actors (politicians, bureaucrats, business representatives, financial leaders); and second, economic and financial data issued by the four governments involved in the study (U.S., Japan, South Korea, China), official reports issued by international economic research institutions, newspaper articles, written articles and speeches, and local literature. Also, for a simple large-N analysis (Chapter 2) of U.S. trade imbalances and initiation of trade disputes, I have conducted statistical modeling using quantitative data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Census Bureau, the WTO, the IMF, the OECD, and the World Bank, centering on the countries that have run surplus in trade with the U.S. and/or have been involved in a trade dispute with the U.S. Beyond quantitative coursework at Boston University, I have benefitted greatly from attending lectures on econometrics and statistical analysis at the Department of Economics at the University of Tokyo and also from the ICPSR program at the University of Michigan (Read about ‘The ICPSR Experience’ here).
3 Language Training (2002-ongoing!!!)
I first picked up Chinese as an undergraduate student (2002) and later Japanese as a graduate student (2005) at Korea University. I expanded in-depth views on East Asian non-traditional security issues by working for the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) in Seoul, Korea (2006-07). My understanding of the Northeast Asian cultures and my command of Northeast Asian languages have been a great foundation for my work, and I strive to maintain my language skills everyday.
4 Preliminary Research (2008-09)
During my preliminary research in Boston and Cambridge, the discussion on global imbalances emerged prior to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-2009. I developed a keen interest on the three bilateral trade imbalances and currency wars – specifically, U.S.-Japan, U.S.-South Korea, and U.S.-China trade imbalances, with the academic query in mind that existing work on trade imbalances has provided limited insight on its impact on U.S. foreign economic policy decision-making. I sought to propose a theoretical framework that explains variations in state behavior in international institutions according to the level of trade imbalances that lead to domestic political pressures. I hypothesized that elevation in trade imbalance levels lead to domestic demands on U.S. policy makers to resolve the trade imbalance by resorting to a trade dispute in international institutions, and pressuring its trading partners for currency appreciation. To test my propositions, I constructed a dissertation research plan comprising of a quantitative analysis of trade imbalance impact on disputes settlement cases and qualitative case study evidence finding from the three important bilateral imbalances of study. Prior to on-site dissertation fieldwork, I finalized my preliminary dissertation research under the title, ‘Trade Imbalances and the Future of Northeast Asia’ at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer Range Future at Boston University as a 2010 Pardee Summer Research Fellow.
5 Dissertation Fieldwork
5.1 Tokyo, Japan (2010-11)
I first started on-site field research in my first dissertation fieldwork year as a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, the University of Tokyo (September 2010-October 2011) and as a Visiting Scholar at the Policy Research Institute, Ministry of Finance, Japan (February-October 2011) under the guidance of Professors Hiwatari Nobuhiro and Iida Keisuke, and the financial sponsorship of the Matsushita International Foundation, the Atsumi International Foundation, and the Setsutaro Kobayashi Memorial Fund.
I interviewed with a wide range of key actors in METI, MOFA, MOF, MAFF, BOJ and the Cabinet Office of the Government of Japan, and members of the Japanese Diet. I also encountered financial experts and businessmen, and did extensive data search and archival research at the MOF and at the University of Tokyo. Upon departure from Japan, I also made a formal presentation of my research in Japan at the University of Tokyo Social Science Dissertation Workshop (September 29, 2011) and to the Ministry of Finance (October 14, 2011) in front of many high ministry officials, under the title, ‘Resorting to International Institutions to Resolve Trade Imbalances? U.S. Protectionism via GATT/WTO Dispute Initiation’ (Japanese Title: 貿易不均衡の解消の為の国際機関の利用：GATT/WTOへの訴訟による米国の保護主義の発生’.
5.2 Beijing, China (2011-12)
I continued my fieldwork as a Senior Visiting Research Student at the School of International Studies, Peking University, China (October 2011-July 2012), under the guidance of Professor Wang Yong and the financial sponsorship of the China Scholarship Council of the PRC. I interviewed various scholars in the field of politics and economics at Peking University, Tsinghua University, Renmin University, Fudan University, and the IWEP, CASS. I also participated in various seminars on U.S.-China trade imbalances led by Wang Yong at Peking University and on the Chinese economy led by Li Daokui at Tsinghua University. I finalized my fieldwork in China by delivering a presentation of my research in China at the GR:EEN-GEM PhD School held at Fudan University (August 22, 2012) under the title, ‘Echoes of the Asian Financial Crisis in Reverse: Capital Controls and Currency Wars in the Wake of the post-Global Financial Crisis – Perspectives from EMEs with Comparative Case Studies of China and South Korea’. I will be returning to China in Summer 2014 to collect additional data for this piece with support from the BUCFLP and the Tobin Project.
5.3 Seoul, Korea (2012)
In between my fieldwork in Japan and China, I also conducted additional fieldwork at the government agencies in Seoul, South Korea, including politicians in the National Assembly in financial and economic subcommittees, and officials of financial and economic ministries and bureaus – the MOSF, MKE, MOFAT, BOK, KITA, and KCIF (January, August and September, 2012)
- Prior Training, Service and Research
Majoring in political science, I have been building my career as a researcher in the field of international and regional political economy, security, institutions, and law. Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, I have lived and traveled widely throughout North America, Western Europe, and East Asia. In my early years, I was temporarily raised in Los Angeles in the United States, where I picked up English and started learning French.
Taking formal training in the French language in high school sparked my interest in the European region, and led me to study abroad at the Université de Genève and the Institut Français des Alpes (IFALPES) Annecy (2002) during my undergraduate program. While studying in Geneva, I gained a profound interest in the political and economic functions of international organizations.
Upon entering my graduate program, I seized the opportunity and funding from the ROK Government to work on an economic and social development report at the Graduate Student Programme at the United Nations Office in Geneva (2005), and to work as an intern at the United Nations Department of Political Affairs Security Council (UNSC) Sanctions Subsidiary Organs Branch at the United Nations Headquarters in New York (2005-06).
My masters thesis titled, ‘Legal Initiatives of the United States on the United Nations Sanctions Regime’ (Korea University, 2007) written based on my service at the UN. My previous studies of the European region and work on international institutions became a strong foundation for my PhD work. Both my masters thesis and PhD dissertation reflect my fundamental research interests in domestic legal systems and international institutions.
(Last updated: April 14, 2013)