South Korea and Japan just do not come together. That’s a problem for Biden

Before Moscow’s unprovoked war, European nations were divided over issues ranging from Russian energy pipelines to Brexit and – with persistent reluctance going back to the Trump era’s trade disputes and the Iraq war – some even seemed to rethink their relationship with Washington.

The stakes could hardly be higher. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken recently referred to China’s progress as “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century” – and that was after the Russian invasion.

Meanwhile, North Korea has conducted fifteen missile launches so far this year, and despite Pyongyang declaring a “serious national emergency” last week due to a Covid-19 eruption, Washington believes its seventh nuclear test and further intercontinental ballistic missile tests may be imminent – – and possibly timed to coincide with Biden’s journey.

Hence Washington’s desire to see Japan and South Korea unite.

The problem for Biden? While both seem eager to get closer to Washington when it comes to each other, the two countries just do not get along. They have a historically bitter and fragile relationship, rooted in Japan’s colonization of South Korea from 1910 to 1945, which was fueled by Japan’s use of sex slaves in war brothels – victims now euphemistically referred to as “comfort women”. What’s more, they remain locked in a 70-year dispute over the sovereignty of a group of islands in the Sea of ​​Japan.

These differences are not historical curiosities, but living disputes. In one of the most recent trials of trilateral negotiations, in November 2021, a joint press conference was derailed when the Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister objected to a South Korean police chief’s visit to the islands – known as Dokdo of South Korea but Takeshima of Japan. Lawsuits against Japanese companies over their use of forced labor during the war remain unresolved. Recent years have seen increasing differences in security and economic issues.

Evans Revere, a former US diplomat who has been in and out of government over the past 50 years, with efforts on both the desks of Korea and Japan, has seen the sourness of the relationship undermine alliances over a period of decades.

“If Tokyo and Seoul do not talk to each other actively, if they do not cooperate with each other, it is very difficult for the United States to fulfill not only its obligations to them, but also its strategy of trade with China, to trade with North Korea.” ” he said.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol will deliver a speech in Gwangju on May 18, 2022, at a ceremony marking the 42nd anniversary of a 1980 pro-democracy uprising in the southwestern city.

Signs of thawing

Fortunately for Biden, Revere says he feels more hopeful now than he has for a very long time.

Both South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are newly appointed leaders, and both have shown signs of high-minded attitudes towards North Korea and China, as well as an eagerness for stronger military ties with the United States.
Japan’s still influential former leader Shinzo Abe has urged Tokyo to consider hosting US nuclear weapons, while South Korea’s Yoon has suggested he consider joins the Quad – the US-led loose security group that includes Japan, India and Australia and will hold a summit in which Biden will attend towards the end of his journey.

The crucial thing is that the two new leaders have also shown signs of putting the past behind them. Yoon offered an olive branch to Japan last month by sending a delegation to Tokyo ahead of his deployment as part of his plan – outlined in a campaign speech – for South Korea to make a “fresh start” as a “global central state.”

His team hand delivered a letter from Yoon to Kishida, and the move was reciprocated this month when Japan sent Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi to Yoon’s inauguration with a letter in response.

South Korea's new president Yoon Suk Yeol calls for North Korean nuclear disarmament in inauguration speech

After receiving the letter, Kishida said strategic cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea was needed “more than ever, given that the rules-based international order is threatened.”

But while country leaders see the benefit of putting the past behind them, they want to avoid alienating voters who may not be so forgiving.

Professor Kohtaro Ito, a senior researcher at The Canon Institute for Global Studies, said that although Yoon had shown signs of a changing approach – electing a foreign minister in Park Jin who could speak both English and Japanese and is popular in the Japanese parliament – – Any breakthrough during Biden’s journey is unlikely.

This is because both still have to navigate impending local elections – South Korea has local polls in June and Japan has upper house elections in July – and neither leader will want to alienate nationalist voters who are less willing to let those who have disappeared disappear.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a press conference in Tokyo on April 26.

The barrier of nationalism

This is hardly the first time the two countries have tried to overcome their differences. In 1965, they signed a treaty that normalized the relationship and was to clarify some of the most controversial issues – including the issue of “comfort women”.

But South Korea was a military dictatorship at the time, and many Koreans have never accepted the treaty. For some, subsequent apologies and agreements from Japanese prime ministers have still been flawed in what they consider adequate replacements.

Choi Eunmi, a researcher in Japanese studies at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said a Japan-South Korea alliance would be crucial to Biden’s hopes of building a coalition, but said his visit would not do much to resolve them. problems.

“It’s too sensitive and too controversial, and there is no room for the United States to solve the problems,” she said.

There are the voters to think about.

Revere highlights “the nationalism that often drives the perception of this relationship and historical issues in both capitals” as a destructive factor and the role of the South Korean courts, which – through their decisions on wartime conflicts – “can bring down any effort for reconciliation. “

For decades, families of Korean forced labor victims have fought for compensation through the courts and targeted Japanese companies directly.

It is an issue that has angered Tokyo, which believes that things were resolved by the 1965 Treaty, and a problem that Yoon can hardly address without being accused of interfering in the independence of the judiciary.

Yoon also begins his single five-year term with the lowest approval ratings of any future president and must work with an opposition-dominated parliament.

In Japan, the older and generally more conservative generation largely supports a tougher approach to South Korea, and Kishida will be well aware of that, said Ito, adding that the older generation voted in far greater numbers than the younger one.

Biden, however, probably has a clear message that can cut through any lingering political doubt on the part of Kishida or Yoon: the importance of alliances and cooperation, as demonstrated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The President of the United States has been instrumental in mobilizing the international community, mobilizing NATO allies and others to support Ukraine in times of need,” Revere said.

“What better statement about the importance and value of the benefits of alliances than what is happening right now.”

South Korea and Japan just do not come together. That’s a problem for Biden

Source link South Korea and Japan just do not come together. That’s a problem for Biden

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