Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Josef Korbel School of International Studies, International Studies

First Advisor

Suisheng Zhao, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Haider Khan, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Paul Viotti, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

David Goldfischer, Ph.D.


China, Chinese face culture, Identity, South Korea, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense


This dissertation explores the question of why China responded particularly harshly to pro-U.S. military actions taken by South Korea, when this nation was identified as a friend to China, while responding less harshly to similar pro-U.S. military actions taken by Japan, who was not identified as a friend. My argument is that these divergent responses were caused by China’s different expectations, according to whether different nations had a perceived identity as a friend or a rival. China’s behaviors are essentially based on its own proclaimed identity and on the perceived identities of others. China has advanced the proclaimed identity of a “responsible great power” since the 1990s. Also, China has had the perceived identity of being friends to both North Korea from the beginning of its establishment, and South Korea through the normalization of diplomatic ties in 1992, whereas it has not perceived Japan as being a friend. The identity of friends can be measured by social bonds, social contacts, and expression of intimacy by words and behaviors. In responding to the actions of states identified as friends, Chinese face culture influenced the Chinese political elite to experience frustration and humiliation by the actions unexpectedly taken by its South Korean friend, leading them to adopt harsh responses and excessive retaliation. Relatedly, Chinese face culture shapes China’s reactions to others through three dynamics of seeking, saving, and losing face. In particular, China becomes furious and retaliates when it is humiliated and frustrated by losing face by the actions of its friends.

These arguments are tested through three case studies of Sino-North Korean relations, Sino-South Korean relations, and Sino-Japanese relations. These cases are, respectively: North Korea’s Taepodong-2 missile launch and first nuclear test in 2006, South Korea’s decision to allow the United States to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) around 2016, and Japan’s decision to deploy two U.S. X-band radars in 2005 and 2014. Multiple sources are relied on in these case studies, including several memoirs by diplomats and reporters. Two main resources are used throughout the case studies: official remarks by spokespersons from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China at their regular press conferences (2001-2018), and the database of the People’s Daily (1946-2019) (the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China). My findings from these three cases support the argument that identity and Chinese face culture shape state actions, while rejecting the possible counterargument that national interests primarily shape state actions.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Kang Kyu Lee


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

339 p.


International relations, Asian studies, Political science