Japan-South Korea Relations: Slowly Lifting the Burden of History?



Japan and South Korea have long been defined as "close but distant neighbors." The two countries are close geographically, but Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945 has left a deep scar on relations and remains a painful subject for most Korean people. Japan has expressed regret for its past behavior, but is tired of repeated demands for an apology. More than a half-century later, full reconciliation between the two countries is yet to be achieved. Recently though, the two nations and their leaders are making efforts to move beyond the past and build a constructive relationship between the two most developed nations in East Asia and key U.S. allies in the region. The relationship between Japan (the second largest economy with the second largest defense budget) and South Korea (the twelfth largest economy with the sixth largest military force) has significant bearing on the region's security. In particular, cooperation between Japan and South Korea will be critical for U.S. handling of North Korea's nuclear issue and Washington's future alliance strategy in the region. Despite recent progress in diplomacy resulting from the initiatives of leaders of both countries, Japan-South Korea relations remain fragile. The two nations face tough challenges from issues in the past, present, and future: disputes over history, North Korea, Japan's military role, and negotiation of a free trade agreement (FTA). Although U.S. military restructuring calls for closer Japan-South Korea cooperation in defense, it will require a sea change in South Korea's negative view of Japan before a robust U.S.-Japan-Korea alliance develops.

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    ABSTRACT: This article critically evaluates the basis, aspirations, and prospects for bilateral security cooperation between Japan and South Korea. The assumption that common enemies, friends, and interests should have given rise to solid and steadily improving relations between Tokyo and Seoul has been far from realized. Rather, the Japan-ROK relationship continues to be marked by highly volatile behavior – ranging from intense friction to reluctant cooperation – which not only offers a vexing puzzle to the Realist school of international relations but also to the Constructivist one. This article argues that despite the perceived improvement in relations, Japan-South Korea security cooperation is situational and limited; recent developments do not imply a fundamental realignment of the two powers towards one another.
    No preview · Article · May 2013 · Asian Security