26 October 2023
Where next for the Australia–South Korea partnership?
The strategic partnership between Australia and South Korea holds great potential in an increasingly challenging time. The two nations have many common strategic interests and both can rightly claim to be regional powers. However, the relationship remains a relative underperformer compared with other key regional relationships and has suffered from inconsistency. When Canberra’s contemporary relationship with Seoul receives attention from Australian analysts, it tends to be framed largely in the context of the threats posed by Pyongyang.
While some uncertainties remain over the long-term trajectory of South Korea’s foreign and security policy due to concerns that Seoul’s current vision is tied to the Yoon government as opposed to being embedded in longer-term statecraft, the structural basis for deeper engagement between Seoul and Canberra is sound. Investing in the relationship is in both nations’ interests. Building bureaucratic and commercial frameworks for cooperation now would help ensure that bilateral strategic alignment is less prone to future changes in government.
This paper assesses the Australia–South Korea partnership through the three-pillar structure outlined in the 2021 Australia-South Korea Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and offers recommendations for strengthening the relationship. These recommendations include furthering strategic cooperation by incrementally aligning key trilateral formats, developing bilateral cooperation in critical technologies including those relevant to AUKUS Pillar 2, and nurturing collaboration with respect to the Indo-Pacific clean energy transition.