While the relationship between South Korea and Japan is fraught with a number of historical and territorial disputes, the current cycle of tensions focuses our attention on lawsuits related to the colonial era. Most notably, bilateral ties soured after 2018, when two landmark rulings from the South Korean Supreme Court ordered Japanese firms to compensate Korean plaintiffs for their wartime forced labor.
Anti-Korean racism is at the heart of historic and unresolved tensions between Japan and South Korea. It will be near impossible to resolve disputes like the comfort women issue without addressing this racism. This is because the difficulty in reaching a consensus on the Japanese side often derives from the underlying tendency among many Japanese to view Koreans as “inferior” and “untrustworthy.” U.S. actors, including officials, businesses and academics, should understand the consequences of the important role they have played in perpetuating such prejudice and help right this wrong.
President Biden will meet Friday with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida amid “a really high sense of insecurity” over North Korean missile tests, says USIP’s Mirna Galic. On the agenda: Japan’s new national security strategy, which features “potential for closer cooperation and integration of U.S. and Japan operations.”
South Korea and Japan normalized relations in 1965, but unresolved historical disputes continue to undermine genuine bilateral reconciliation and optimal diplomatic, security and economic cooperation. Past efforts, both between the two countries and trilaterally with the United States, to help improve relations have generally emphasized a “future-oriented” approach that focused on common security and economic interests.
To increase understanding of these changes and their impacts, USIP convened a working group consisting of experts from NATO countries and from NATO’s formal partner countries in the Asia-Pacific: Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, which are informally known as the Asia-Pacific Four (or AP4).
In today’s era of strategic competition between the United States and China, crises are more likely than ever in the Indo-Pacific region. Effective mechanisms are therefore needed to prevent such crises from escalating into armed conflict. To this end, USIP is examining crisis communication mechanisms and negotiations between China and its regional neighbors to identify common issues and themes across countries to provide lessons that can be learned and shared.