China and Its Small Neighbors

The Political Economy of Asymmetry, Vulnerability, and Hedging

By Sung Chull Kim

Subjects: International Relations, Asian Studies, Comparative Politics, Comparative Economics
Hardcover : 9781438492353, 306 pages, March 2023

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations

1. Exploring Key Concepts in the Relationship between China and Its Small Neighbors

2. Asymmetrical Economic Relationships and Vulnerability to Coercion

3. Vietnam: Perception of Duality and Mixed Hedging

4. Cambodia: Neutrality in Principle, Alignment in Practice

5. Myanmar: Hedging amid Internal-External Security Linkage

6. Uzbekistan: Hedging with Balanced, Multivector Diplomacy

7. Mongolia: Multidimensional Hedging

8. North Korea: Alignment Tinged with Distrust

Works Cited

Analyzes the nature, processes, and political consequences of the asymmetrical relationships between China and its six small neighbors in Asia.


In China and Its Small Neighbors, Sung Chull Kim examines the political implications of the economic asymmetry between China and its small neighbors, part of wider changes in international relations brought about by the rise of China. While being critical of the current trend that focuses on the China-U.S. rivalry alone, Kim argues that a microanalysis of China's advances toward its neighbors is a guide to understanding the trajectory of China's expanding influence and transitions in world politics more broadly. Economic asymmetry—as seen in trade concentration, non-transparency, and reliance on bilateral aid—has made China's small neighbors vulnerable on the political front, thus generating potential threats to their sovereignty and independence. Because China has the upper hand in the bilateral relationships, these weak states practice dual-core hedging as a strategy for survival. They hedge on China for expected economic benefits and at the same time hedge against their powerful neighbor to mitigate the risks involved in that hedging-on. Each small state's mode of hedging depends on its degree of vulnerability and its availability of policy instruments such as multilateral institutions and bilateral partnerships with extra-regional powers.

Sung Chull Kim is Visiting Research Fellow at Seoul National University Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, where he also served as Humanities Korea Professor until retiring in 2021. His many books include Partnership within Hierarchy: The Evolving East Asian Security Triangle, also published by SUNY Press.


"This book advances our understanding of asymmetry and its consequences for bilateral relations, as seen from the perspectives of both the dominant power and dependent neighbors. Well-researched and comprehensive, the book includes impacts on such previously neglected smaller nations as Uzbekistan and Mongolia. Further, it offers policy insights on China's use of bilateral and multilateral policy instruments in seeking regional and global influence." — Seo-Hyun Park, author of Sovereignty and Status in East Asian International Relations

"This ambitious book makes a strong, new statement: we cannot understand the rise of China, or China's role in international relations more generally, without comprehending the country's connections with its nearby, smaller neighbors in Asia. Kim deftly investigates the similar, but disparate, hedging behaviors of six close-at-hand countries, all of which are substantially weaker than China—both hedging toward, but also hedging away, from China—as well as China's specific styles of bonding with each of them. He also makes clear the factors that determine the extent of each nation's vulnerability, adroitly explicating how these states differentially manage their asymmetry with China. A nuanced, 'microanalysis' of the interstate behavior of the PRC emerges that goes well beyond its dealings with its regional partners. A true marriage of comparative and international political analysis." — Dorothy J. Solinger, Professor Emerita, University of California, Irvine

"A rare investigation of how China's smaller neighbors make strategic decisions to pursue their diverse interests, hedging on and against the PRC in a 'complex asymmetry.' With rich data and nuanced analysis, this book is a very valuable and timely contribution to the discourse about the Chinese power and its geopolitical impact in Asia." — Fei-Ling Wang, author of The China Record: An Assessment of the People's Republic

"This book astutely examines variety of economic statecraft deployed by lesser powers in China's neighborhood. It explains why different nations navigate between vulnerabilities and opportunities in distinct manners. Its case selection is smart and its analysis is compelling. Definitely a must read for anyone interested in international political economy or East Asian politics." — Tun-jen Cheng, Class of 1935 Professor, The College of William & Mary