Declining Japan-South Korea relations could weaken East Asian security

Expert claims recent disputes have damaged diplomatic relations irreparably


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and South Korean President Moon Jae-in (right) (by Associated Press)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Sheila Smith, a senior fellow at the U.S. think tank Council on Foreign Relations, believes that Japan-Korea relations have already been damaged to the point of no return, potentially causing issues for regional security.

The recent deterioration of relations between Japan and South Korea is as clear as day. In the last year alone, the two countries have been engaged in arbitration over Korean wartime labor compensation, disputed export restrictions involving the World Trade Organization (WTO), and feuded over a Korean warship locking its fire-control radar onto a Japanese warplane.

In an interview with Kyodo News on July 7, Smith asserted that the current dip in relations is unlike any other issue between the two countries in the recent past. Previously, Japan and South Korea would continue to cooperate peacefully even when engaged in diplomatic disagreements, but recent events have resulted in considerable antagonism, causing what Smith believes to be irreparable damage.

According to Smith, the downturn in relations is partly due to each nation’s attitude toward North Korea and the U.S. Japan is mostly concerned with denuclearization in North Korea, while South Korea aims to reduce sanctions against their neighbor to the north. This means that any strategic decision of the U.S.'s regarding North Korea will make it seem as though it has sided with one ally over another.

Smith further stated that if tensions between Japan and South Korea were to escalate, strategic and military relations between both nations and the U.S. may fall apart. She concluded by mentioning that this potential weakening of regional security poses a serious challenge to U.S. policymakers.