Japan and South Korea have recently been involved in a number of disputes resulting in high economic and security tensions between the two countries. These disputes include a trade war and Japan’s removal of South Korea from its whitelist. On top of this, North Korea last month conducted seven weapons tests and said that more U.S. talks are unlikely. Any halt to North Korea-U.S. talks regarding nuclear weapons or diplomacy may lead to a reversal of past agreements. The concurrence of these two situations shows how these issues can affect each other and lead to destabilization in the region.
In light of the tense situation in the area, any new analysis should take into account both Japan’s nationalistic tendencies and the South Korea-Japan disputes. In doing so, it becomes clear that Japan should be kept out of any future discussions regarding Korean diplomatic negotiations.
One must recognize that the current South Korea-Japan dispute stems from the Japanese imperial occupation of Korea during World War II. In fact, the South Korean Supreme Court recently ruled to seize a large amount of shares from two Japanese companies as compensation to Korean wartime laborers. Japan’s restriction of key materials for smartphone production and other trade measures against South Korea are clearly retaliations against the Supreme Court’s decision. The fact that Japan blatantly engages in historical revisionism and ignores the court rulings shows how the current tensions in the region stem from problems that date back to World War II. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s administration also has connections with the Nippon Kaigi, a prominent nationalist group with links to a school that sent a letter to parents insulting Korean and Chinese people in Japan based on their ethnicity. Abe’s involvement in the group shows that the racist rhetoric of the Japanese far-right has spread to the country’s highest office.
Considering Japan’s historical revisionism and the Abe administration’s nationalism, Japan should not be trusted in matters regarding the two Koreas. Having the former imperial occupier at the table only minimizes any possibility of progress. The country’s right-wing philosophies only bring perspectives that harken back to colonial oppression.
As tensions rise all over East Asia, it is vital that the South Korea-Japan dispute and Korean peacekeeping situation are seen as interlinking issues. In the context of Korean peace negotiations, it has become clear that these disputes have changed regional dynamics, and because of this, Japan should be kept out of any future discussions. Allowing the country to access negotiations would hinder any potential progress, and would not create the strong trilateral alliance that the U.S. wants. At this stage, Japan’s refusal to acknowledge its historical faults, as well as its retaliations against the South Korean Supreme Court ruling, make Japan’s inclusion in Korean peace negotiations impermissible.
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A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, September 3, 2019 print edition. Email Jun Sung at [email protected]