Research on the relationship between international economic and political relations has produced no consensus on the pacifying effects of trade. Rapid trade growth and enduring tensions characterize post–Cold War Asia’s paradox. This study assesses the political effects of China-centered interdependence based on the China–South Korea case since 1992. Although trade may inhibit conflict in line with liberal expectations, its coercive potential limits its pacifying effects. When disputes arise, asymmetric interdependence generates strategic leverage and vulnerability, and amplifies the identity dimensions of conflict that shape societal preferences. China’s combination of economic pressure and nationalist discourse induces accommodation primarily through coercion. By blending state-led and society-led retaliation, economic and accountability costs are minimized. China–South Korea political interactions have increased in quantity but not quality. The Asian case underscores qualitative changes in political relations (rather than just instances of conflict), the material and nonmaterial repercussions of asymmetric trade, and the regional security implications of China-led interdependence.

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