Potentials and Limitations of Japan-South Korea Relations


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In partnership with the U.S.-Japan Research Institute

When: Dec 4 2013 - 12:00pm until Dec 4 2013 - 1:30pm
Where: 1819 L St, NW, Washington, DC. Sixth Floor Conference Room

Potentials and Limitations of Japan-South Korea Relations

An Asia-Pacific Security Seminar featuring:

Dr. Yoshihide Soeya
Japan Scholar, Asia Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Dr. Yoshihide Soeya, a 2013 Japan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington DC, speaks at the East-West Center in Washington

The US-China relationship is under structural transformation, and will remain the most critical common denominator for the national strategies of Japan and South Korea for many years to come. It has been assumed that these changes would bring these two treaty allies of the US closer together. The conclusion of the bilateral negotiations over the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), intelligence and logistics sharing agreements between the militaries of Japan and Korea, were small but essential indicators that the strategic outlooks of Tokyo and Seoul finally began to converge. Domestic political circumstances, however, stalled the completion of the deal at the last moment

In his talk at the East-West Center in Washington, co-sponsored in partnership with the US-Japan Research Institute (USJI) Dr. Yoshihide Soeya, argued that, ironically, the usual bilateral walls between Japan and South Korea appear to be getting higher, precisely because of this strategic convergence. His hypothesis is that as the national and strategic interests of these two nations are getting closer, the limitations on bilateral cooperation are becoming more clear. At the core of this paradox is a dichotomy of a will to work together functionally alongside remembrance of the past that arouses passionate responses among the domestic electorate. While officials on both sides attempt to turn the relationship to look toward the future, "past memories keep fighting back."

An example was seen on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of Japan's annexation of Korea in 2010, Soyea explained. While there was a movement among scholars to use this as an opportunity for reflection on the past and how to move forward, for many Koreans such reflection only reaffirmed the immorality of Japan. On the Japanese side, a lack of understanding or attention by the general public to these issues has allowed nationalist elements to find a niche in that space. The Japanese government's official stance is to point to official statements of apology in the past (specifically the Murayama statement from the mid-1990s), however each time a nationalist Japanese official makes an inflammatory remark about Japan's colonial past, Koreans question the sincerity of these statements and this policy. From the Japanese government's perspective, rather than ignoring them, this reaction from Korea gives power and voice to these fringe elements and thus incentive for them to repeat such actions.

Other difficulties for the governments of Japan and South Korea to go forward with cooperation efforts have come from Korea as well. Soeya described two recent shocks to come out of Korea's high courts: a constitutional court decision ordering the Korean government to reopen negotiations with Japan over the comfort women issue, and a supreme court ruling that individual victims forced to work for Japanese companies would be able to sue. These activist rulings, unordered by the Korean government, were highly protested by Japan, which asserts that such matters were settled when both counties normalized relations in 1965 and cannot be reopened. These rulings severely limit what the Korean government can politically do with Japan, and given its 1965 treaty stance, the Japanese government has limited ability to respond as well.

Therefore, when negotiating the GSOMIA and ASCA agreements, the governments had to do so in secret. When they were publicly revealed however, the domestic backlash in South Korea was such that the strong anti-Japan sentiment among the electorate prevented the Korean government from completing the deal with Japan. This incident now stands as the prime example of cooperation on shared goals limited by the unresolved issues of the past.

Dr. Yoshihide Soeya is professor of political science and international relations at the Faculty of Law of Keio University, and serves as the Director of the Center for Contemporary Korean Studies of the Institute of East Asian Studies, also at Keio. He is presently in residence as a Japan scholar in the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC. Dr. Soeya currently serves on the councils of the Japan Association of International Studies and Japan Association for Asian Studies, and is a member of the International Council of the Asia Society in New York.

His areas of research interest are politics and security in East Asia, and Japanese diplomacy and external relations in the region and the world. Dr. Soyea’s major publications in English include “A ‘Normal’ Middle Power: Interpreting Changes in Japanese Security Policy in the 1990s and After,” in Yoshihide Soeya, Masayuki Tadokoro, and David A. Welch, eds., Japan as a ‘Normal Country’?: A Country in Search of its Place in the World (University of Toronto Press, 2011); and Japan’s Economic Diplomacy with China, 1945-1978 (Clarendon Press, 1998). He received a Ph.D. Political Science from the University of Michigan, majoring in World Politics, and an MA in International Relations from Sophia University, Tokyo.

Primary Contact Info:
Name: Grace Ruch Clegg
Phone: 202-327-9762