For a country just slightly larger than Indiana, South Korea has for years punched well above its weight,
It's family-owned conglomerates, known as chaebols, have made a mark around the globe: think everything from Hyundai cars to Samsung smartphones. Its pop culture has influenced fashion and music worldwide. And Korean companies have provided many of the advanced technologies powering manufacturers in China, the world's factory.
But the importance of South Korea to China, and other major powers, goes beyond business.
South Korea is central to a complex geopolitical situation, with the belligerent North Korea on its heels, while superpowers U.S. and China jostle for hegemony in the Asia Pacific. How South Korea navigates its relationships with Washington and Beijing could have profound implications for the region and its economy.
A case in point is the U.S.' impending deployment of the Thaad missile system on South Korean soil to help counter further threats from Pyongyang. This move, however, has angered neighboring China, who sees the move as threatening to its security interests.
In an interview with Yonhap news agency last year, South Korea's outgoing ambassador to China cautioned about Seoul's position between the two allies and urged the country to consider how to balance its relationship with the two.
"Although Korea-China and Korea-U.S. relations are not said to be a 'zero-sum game,' there could be a situation where we are forced to make a choice between the two relations," Kwon Young-se warned.