Japanese–South Korean relations undergo from centuries of built-up animosity as a consequence of delicate historic points and sovereignty disputes. Cyclical spikes in tensions are triggered by incidents that unleash nationalist furor in each international locations. Nevertheless, a current improvement supplies a way to enhance strained relations.
On the 102nd anniversary of South Korea’s independence protest in opposition to Japanese occupation, held on March 1, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in prolonged an olive department to Tokyo.
Whereas praising the Samil (March 1) independence motion, Moon additionally referred to as for a future-oriented relationship that separated tough historic points from present and future challenges.
“We should not let the previous maintain us again. Now we have to pay attention extra power on future-oriented improvement whereas resolving problems with the previous individually,” stated Moon, vowing to proceed to hunt resolutions to the painful historic points arising from Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean Peninsula.
Tokyo ought to reply positively by specializing in cooperative measures to deal with widespread issues. Washington ought to re-engage with each allies and play a powerful behind-the-scenes function that urges remediation with out showing to publicly take sides.
In his remarks, Moon pledged forward-looking, cooperative insurance policies with Japan that may profit each international locations and “facilitate stability and prosperity in Northeast Asia and the trilateral Korea-United States-Japan partnership.”
The latest deterioration in bilateral relations was as a result of Moon administration’s repudiation of the 2015 “consolation girls” settlement, by which Japan apologized for forcing Korean girls into sexual slavery for the Japanese imperial military throughout World Struggle II, and agreed to pay compensation to the victims. The settlement was seen as inadequate by many in South Korea.
One other motion that soured relations with Japan was a South Korean courtroom ruling that declared that Japanese corporations ought to pay compensation to victims of pressured labor throughout the occupation.
Japan retaliated by imposing commerce restrictions on exports which, in flip, led to South Korean boycotting of Japanese items. Each international locations threatened to withdraw from a mutual intelligence sharing settlement.
Whereas earlier conciliatory gestures from each international locations have foundered on circumstances and ailing emotions, each international locations ought to, as Moon suggested, separate historic troubles from present points. The financial and societal devastation wrought by COVID-19 supplies widespread floor for cooperation not solely on vaccine manufacturing and distribution, in addition to efforts to revive each economies.
Japan and South Korea have each highlighted the significance of this summer season’s Tokyo Olympics, the previous for nationwide advantages of a profitable occasion, the latter as a doable venue for resurrecting stalemated inter-Korean relations. Whereas it stays unsure whether or not the video games will happen, they are often one in every of many mutually helpful initiatives.
The USA has typically been reluctant to develop into concerned within the bilateral dispute, because it dangers showing to worth one ally over the opposite. Nevertheless, strained Japanese-South Korean relations hinders reaching U.S. strategic aims in northeast Asia. Japan and South Korea are necessary financial companions, fellow democracies, and critically necessary allies in opposition to widespread safety threats. Each international locations are the inspiration of U.S. international coverage in Asia.
As such, the Biden administration ought to attempt to mend strained relations between America’s critically necessary northeast Asian allies whereas avoiding perceptions of being an arbiter on contentious historic points. Washington ought to encourage a dual-track method on addressing historic and present points.
Encouragingly, U.S., South Korean, and Japanese officers held a uncommon trilateral name coping with North Korean points final month.
The present administration can take a lesson from the Obama administration’s in depth behind-the-scenes diplomacy with Tokyo and Seoul, which facilitated the bilateral settlement on consolation girls and enhancements in bilateral relations.
President Joe Biden has a private historical past of such involvement. Whereas vp, he personally interceded with each then-president of South Korea Park Geun-hye and then-prime minister of Japan Shinzo Abe to deliver a couple of bilateral assembly between them.
Biden ought to name for a near-term digital trilateral summit with Moon and Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga with an invite for in-person assembly as quickly as COVID-19 circumstances permit. The assembly ought to handle areas of trilateral cooperation, and must also handle regional threats from North Korea and China.
Sadly, there’s a lot mistrust and animosity between Tokyo and Seoul, however widespread adversity and threats can present a foundation for shifting ahead. The historic points are unlikely to be solved to either side’ satisfaction, however delinking them from present insurance policies could be helpful to all.
The USA shares widespread values, rules, and aims with each Japan and South Korea. Washington ought to have interaction forthrightly with each to deal with the previous, however give attention to the long run.
This piece initially appeared in The Every day Sign.