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Urgent Need for Better South Korea-Japan Relations
Publisher Note
Urgent Need for Better South Korea-Japan Relations
  • By Jack H. Park
  • June 3, 2019, 14:48
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South Korean President Moon Jae-in (right) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam on Nov. 11, 2017.

Bilateral relations between the United States and China, between China and Japan, and between the two Koreas are changing fast. The U.S.-Japan alliance has evolved fast under the Shinzo Abe administration, expanding its scope to the Indo-Pacific region. The bilateral relationship between Japan and China are improving, too.

On the other hand, the alliance between the United States and South Korea is not working well. South Korea is currently hesitating to participate in Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy. After the Washington-Pyongyang summit in Hanoi failed in February this year, the North showed no response at all to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s proposal for summit talks while launching short-range ballistic missiles. Amid the North Korea nuclear issue ongoing, inter-Korea relations and the U.S.-North Korea dialogue have been deadlocked. Chinese President Xi Jinping also canceled his plan to visit Seoul next month, which the two governments had pushed with the 2019 G20 Osaka summit nearing.

In short, South Korea is in a dire diplomatic situation without crisis control. With inter-Korean negotiations at an impasse and the trade war between the United States and China causing serious concerns, the relationship between South Korea and Japan are getting worse and worse. Washington is attempting to put more pressure on Beijing and Pyongyang by making use of its close relations with Tokyo and Seoul. According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, President Donald Trump called on the South Korean government to improve its relations with Japan at his meeting with the South Korean president in April.

The Moon Jae-in administration is mentioning two-track diplomacy of politics and economy with Japan, and yet it is failing to make any step forward. At present, the relations between South Korea and Japan are at their worst to the point of adversely affecting South Korean companies in Japan, not to mention government agencies. Under the circumstances, experts point out that the G20 Osaka summit scheduled for next month needs to be a breakthrough.

In the Federation of Korean Industries’ recent survey, 6.2 percent and 46.9 percent of South Korean companies in Japan answered that the deteriorating relations are very adversely and adversely affecting their business, respectively. In addition, 67.5 percent of the respondents said that the South Korean government should make more efforts to improve the bilateral relations.

It is imperative that the government listen to them. Using anti-Japanese sentiments for political purposes is of no use at all for national interests. If the relations remain as they are, the present and future losses of South Korea will snowball. South Korea has grown as a country cherishing universal values such as freedom, democracy and human rights. Now is the time the South Korean government should seriously reset its relations with Washington, Beijing and Tokyo. Concerns, however, are rising over how committed and willing it is to do so.