Order Code RL30382
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Japan-South Korea Relations: Converging
Interests and Implications for the United States
December 3, 1999
Analyst in Asian Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Over the past year, South Korea and Japan have taken dramatic steps to improve their
historically strained relations. This report explains and analyzes the sources of past tensions
between Seoul and Tokyo, the reasons for the recent warming of bilateral relations, and the
implications for U.S. regional security and economic interests. These matters are of concern
to Members and Committees with responsibilities or interests in U.S. policy toward North
Korea, South Korea, Japan, and China, as well as the U.S. negotiating position in the World
Trade Organization (WTO). This report will not be updated unless major developments occur
that bear on its accuracy or relevance.
Japan-South Korea Relations:
Converging Interests and Implications for the United States
Since South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung’s historic October 1998 visit to
Japan, relations between Seoul and Tokyo have improved dramatically, to a point
where arguably the two countries are at their closest ever. The improvement in
bilateral ties has been accompanied by an unprecedented degree of trilateral
coordination among the United States, Japan, and South Korea on policy toward
North Korea. In the short term, the impetus for better relations has come from two
regional crises: North Korea’s August 1998 launch of the Taepodong medium-range
missile over Japan and the near-collapse of the South Korean economy in late 1997.
Additionally, over the longer term, warmer ties have been made possible by the
gradual improvement in traditionally divisive issues, including Japan’s chronic bilateral
trade surpluses, South Korea’s anti-Japanese trade barriers, Seoul’s wariness of
Tokyo’s policy toward North Korea, and competing interpretations of Japan’s
occupation of Korea and behavior in World War II. The more cooperative
relationship between South Korea and Japan enhances regional stability, a major U.S.
objective, and augments U.S. efforts to improve trilateral coordination on policy
toward the Korean peninsula. In the economic sphere, increased cooperation between
the Japanese and South Korean governments will present the U.S. with opportunities
Shifts in Japan-South Korea relations affect activities and policies of concern to,
among others, Members and Committees with responsibilities or interests related to
North Korean nuclear and missile proliferation issues, inter-Korean relations, U.S.Japan security relations, China’s emergence as a regional military and economic
power, and the U.S. negotiating position in the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Normally, the Japan-South Korea relationship per se generates little legislative impact,
but Congress periodically holds hearings and expresses its views on issues that are
affected directly by changes in Tokyo-Seoul relations.
Introduction: Closing the U.S.-Japan-South Korea Triangle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Recent Improvements in Japan-South Korean Relations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy and Regional Security Interests . . . . .
Economic Challenges and Opportunities for the U.S. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Factors Propelling Japan and South Korea’s Convergence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Regional Security and Economic Crises . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Erosion of Traditional Obstacles to Better Relations . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The End of the Cold War . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A Deemphasis on Historical Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Seoul’s Acceptance of Improved Japan-North Korean Relations . . . . .
A Deemphasis on Economic Competition and Trade Imbalances . . . .
Future Relations between Japan and South Korea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
The U.S. Role in Japan-South Korean Relations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
APPENDIX: Chronology of Japan-South Korean Relations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Japan-South Korea Relations: Converging
Interests and Implications for the United States
Closing the U.S.-Japan-South Korea Triangle
Although the U.S. has longstanding bilateral alliances with both Japan and South
Korea, mistrust between Tokyo and Seoul, and Japanese constitutional barriers to
“collective security” often have prevented trilateral relations from assuming the shape
of a true triangle.1 In the 34 years since the 1965 Normalization Treaty was signed,
relations between Japan and South Korea often have been antagonistic rather than
cooperative, despite U.S. attempts to encourage better relations and despite sharing
many common security and economic interests. Bilateral tensions prevented routine
consultation between the Japanese and South Korean governments, particularly in the
military services and in the lower levels of the two countries’ bureaucracies.
Although pressing economic and political issues often compelled “pragmatic
cooperation” between Tokyo and Seoul, until recent months such consultation was
carried out only between top leaders, and was done primarily on an ad hoc basis.2
Recent Improvements in Japan-South Korean Relations
Over the past year, for several mutually reinforcing reasons, relations between
South Korea and Japan have improved dramatically, to a point where arguably the
two countries are at their closest ever. Motivated principally by the desire to unify
policy toward North Korea and the wish to capitalize on common economic interests,
South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi in
October 1998 declared that they had forged a “new partnership.” This achievement
was made possible by President Kim’s conspicuous avoidance of verbal attacks
against Japan’s imperial past, a critical ice-breaker for improved relations. Since the
fall of 1998, the two countries have held regular meetings between Cabinet-level
officials; Japan has submitted its first-ever written apology for its 35-year occupation
of the Korean Peninsula; South Korea has dropped many of its barriers to Japanese
imports; the two militaries have established communication “hot lines;” ministers of
the two countries have finalized an elusive fisheries agreement; and officials in both
capitals have begun discussing the negotiation of a bilateral investment treaty and the
formation of a free trade area. The most dramatic display of the new-found
Gordon F. Flake, “The Perry Process: North Korea as an Impetus for a Stronger Trilateral
Relationship”, paper presented at The 1999 CSIS-KINU Exchange: Prospects for Durable
Peace on the Korean Peninsula, (Washington, DC, November 11 1999), p.7.
Victor D. Cha, “Rooting the Pragmatic in Japan-ROK Security Relations,” Comparative
Connections, (2nd Quarter 1999), [http://www.csis.org/pacfor/cc].
cooperation occurred in August 1999, when the Japanese and South Korean militaries
conducted their first-ever joint exercise, a naval search-and-rescue operation. Most
of these developments have been stimulated by South Korean initiatives.
Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy and Regional Security Interests
The harmonization and institutionalization of Japanese-South Korean relations
has significant implications for U.S. foreign policy, particularly U.S. policy toward
North Korea. Improved bilateral relations have been accompanied by an
unprecedented degree of trilateral coordination among the U.S., Japan, and South
Korea with respect to North Korea. As part of the process undertaken by William
Perry, President Clinton’s U.S. North Korea Policy Coordinator, the three countries
in March 1999 established a trilateral coordination mechanism called the Trilateral
Cooperation and Oversight Group (TCOG), under which senior officials are to meet
regularly to focus on North Korea policy. Seven such gatherings occurred between
March and November 1999, including a three-way summit between President Clinton,
Japanese Prime Minister Obuchi and South Korean President Kim in September.
Many observers have argued that the trilateral unity forged under TCOG —
consultations that are often referred to as the “Perry process” — played a role in
convincing North Korea to declare a moratorium on further tests of its Taepodong
In the near future, maintaining a cooperative relationship between South Korea
and Japan may become even more significant. The Perry report, portions of which
were released last October, calls on the U.S. to gradually and conditionally normalize
relations with Pyongyang in the hopes of inducing North Korea to freeze its missile
and nuclear weapons programs.4 This position is in broad agreement with President
Kim’s “sunshine policy” of engaging, rather than confronting, North Korea.5 Many
argue that increased Japanese involvement, primarily in the form of economic
assistance and food aid, will be critical to convincing the North Korean leadership to
alter its military policy. Indeed, some observers believe that North Korea agreed in
the summer of 1999 to a moratorium on tests of its long-range missiles because it
expected that Japan would resume shipments of food aid, which had been halted
following Pyongyang’s August 1998 launch of a Taepodong-2 over Japan. Also in
response to the missile test, Japan halted charter flights to North Korea, froze
diplomatic normalization talks, and briefly suspended its financial participation in the
Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO). In November 1999,
Japan resumed charter flights to North Korea. On December 1, former Prime
Minister Tomoiichi Murayama led a 16-member multi-party delegation to North
Korea to discuss the resumption of normalization talks between Tokyo and
See, for example, Flake, p.4
See William J. Perry, “Review of United States Policy Toward North Korea: Findings and
Recommendations,” Unclassified Report, October 12, 1999, available in electronic format at
[http://H|/North Korea/Perry report.htm].
For a detailed discussion of Kim Dae-Jung’s sunshine policy, see (name re dacted), South
Korea: “Sunshine Policy” and its Political Context, CRS Report RL30188, May 27, 1999.
Economic Challenges and Opportunities for the U.S.
Over the longer term, closer cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo helps
enhance stability in Northeast Asia, a major U.S. objective. For instance, the two
countries have begun planning coordinated responses to potential crises, such as an
attack by North Korea or a sudden influx of North Korean refugees. Additionally,
greater bilateral harmony should make it easier for the U.S., South Korea, and Japan
to plan coordinated responses to a sudden or gradual reunification of the Korean
In the economic sphere, increased cooperation between the Japanese and South
Korean governments will present the U.S. with opportunities as well as challenges.
On the one hand, to the extent that the lowering of trade barriers between the two
countries boosts their economies, U.S. exports are likely to increase, because firms
and individuals in both nations will have more funds to purchase U.S. products. On
the other hand, a united front between Japan and South Korea could pose a challenge
to U.S. positions in international trade negotiations. In the run-up to the Seattle
ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in November 1999, for
instance, Japan and South Korea have joined the European Union in resisting
liberalization of agriculture markets and have demanded the revision of the WTO’s
anti-dumping rules, positions that are opposed to U.S. policy.
Factors Propelling Japan and
South Korea’s Convergence
Regional Security and Economic Crises
Regional crises have provided the immediate impetus for the improvement in
South Korean and Japanese relations. On the security side, the heightened concern
about North Korea’s missile program has been the most important development
driving the two nations together. After the August 1998 Taepodong test and North
Korean naval incursions into Japanese waters in March 1999, Japanese officials began
to perceive a need to increase military coordination with South Korea. Additionally,
when the Japanese government unilaterally suspended its participation in the Korean
Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) and adopted a harder line
toward Pyongyang in the aftermath of the missile test, U.S. and South Korean foreign
policymakers made a concerted effort to improve trilateral consultation in order to
convince Japan to resume its economic assistance package.6
In the economic sphere, the near-collapse of the South Korean economy in 1997
led South Korea to make significant overtures to Japan in order to obtain Japan’s
financial assistance. As part of the $58 billion 1997 International Monetary Fund
rescue package, Seoul agreed to phase out its “import diversification system,” which
For more on how the North Korea threat has caused many Japanese policymakers to rethink
Japan’s defense posture, see Richard Cronin, “Japan’s Changing Security Outlook:
Implications for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation,” CRS Report RL30256, July 9,1999.
bans imports of selected Japanese products. Japan reportedly had demanded this
move as a precondition for backing the IMF support program, and for extending $10
billion in bilateral loan commitments to South Korea, more than twice the amount
pledged by the U.S. Also, in 1999, South Korea lifted its ban on 48 Japanese goods,
and partially liberalized inflows of Japanese cultural products.
The Erosion of Traditional Obstacles to Better Relations
While regional crises have provided the immediate impetus for better relations,
long-term forces over the past decade also have been working to erode obstacles to
fuller cooperation between Japanese and South Korean officials.
The End of the Cold War. During the Cold War, Japan and South Korea’s
individual alliances with the U.S. created a perception in both Seoul and Tokyo that
ties with each other were merely ancillary to relations with the U.S. This was
particularly the case among Japanese policymakers, who until recently tended to
regard relations with South Korea as comparatively insignificant. The end of the Cold
War and the prospect of U.S. withdrawal from the region have led officials in Tokyo
and Seoul to regard each other as significant partners in their own right, and not
merely as secondary elements of their respective relations with the U.S.
In addition to the dominating U.S. presence, the structure of the U.S. alliances
during the Cold War inhibited better relations between South Korea and Japan.
Whereas the U.S. alliance with Seoul was primarily aimed at containing North Korea,
the U.S.-Japan alliance was aimed mostly at the Soviet Union. Thus, differing goals
in their respective U.S. alliances discouraged Japan and South Korea from
cooperating on military matters.
By the time of Kim Dae-jung’s trip to Japan in 1998, this situation had changed
markedly. With the collapse of the Soviet Union severely reducing the military threat
in Asia, Japan has come to regard North Korea as its major immediate security
challenge. The question of whether the U.S. will scale down, if not withdraw, its
forward presence in East Asia also has led Seoul and Tokyo to treat relations with
each other as important in their own right.
A Deemphasis on Historical Issues. “So near, yet so far,” is a phrase often
used in both Japan and South Korea to describe the emotional and historical chasm
that divides the two countries despite their geographic proximity. The most
prominent obstacle to better relations has been the inability to overcome the mistrust
spawned by South Korea and Japan’s shared history. Mutual suspicions traditionally
have filtered into virtually all areas of the bilateral relationship, even those ostensibly
unrelated to historical issues. Japan annexed the Korean peninsula in 1910 and for
the next 35 years attempted to submerge Korean culture. Since Imperial Japan’s
defeat in World War II, post-War Japanese leaders repeatedly have failed to convince
South Koreans that they truly acknowledge and have apologized for the wrongs
committed during the occupation. Simmering South Korean resentment has been
stoked from time to time by Korean politicians seeking to distract public attention
from domestic problems. Korean bitterness has also been inflamed by events in Japan,
including remarks by Japanese politicians denying or downplaying pre-War Japan’s
imperialist actions, allegations that Japan’s Ministry of Education had censored
history textbooks’ portrayal of World War II, and revelations that the Japanese
military forcibly recruited Korean “comfort women” to provide sexual services to
Japanese soldiers during World War II. When Japanese officials have talked of
playing a bigger role in Asia, South Korean leaders often have reacted with suspicion,
or even outright hostility.
On the Japanese side, opinion polls regularly show that the majority of the
population believe that South Korea is an untrustworthy neighbor, a sentiment that
has occasionally been exploited by opportunistic politicians. Unresolved territorial
disputes, clashes over fishing rights, and Koreans’ reputation in Japan for unreliable
business dealings have fed this grass-roots leeriness of South Korea, which
occasionally has undermined Tokyo’s official efforts to forge closer relations. On
another level, Japanese officials’ occasional concerns about offending South Korean
sensitivities often has made them reluctant to pursue closer ties with Korea and to
publicly talk about upgrading Japan’s role in Korean peninsular issues.7
The legacy of the past has also broken through in bilateral discussions over the
legal rights of the 700,000 or so ethnic Koreans living in Japan, many of whom are
descended from families forcibly relocated during the Occupation. For years, ethnic
Koreans have experienced numerous humiliations, including fingerprinting
requirements, bans on holding teaching and civil servant posts, and the absence of
voting rights, despite the fact that most were born and educated in Japan. Seoul often
has made the legal status of this ethnic minority an issue in government to government
During the past year, leaders in Tokyo and Seoul have taken positive steps to
address some of these historical disagreements, or at least to divert attention away
from them. During his official visit to Japan in October 1998, President Kim avoided
harsh verbal attacks against Japan’s imperial past, a move that was greeted as a
magnanimous gesture by most Japanese. In return, Prime Minister Obuchi presented
him with a written apology to the South Korean people for Japan’s wartime
aggression.9 The apology, the first ever issued by Japan in writing, paved the way for
the South Korean government in September 1999 to take the unprecedented step of
inviting Japanese Emperor Akihito to South Korea. Another sign that South Korea
is deemphasizing historical issues was Seoul’s official silence regarding the Japanese
Diet’s August 1999 decision to legalize the rising sun emblem and imperial hymn as
the nation’s official flag and national anthem, respectively.
Seoul’s Acceptance of Improved Japan-North Korean Relations. For much
of the past 50 years, South Koreans have harbored suspicions of Japanese policy
toward North Korea. Many officials in Seoul have criticized Japan’s occasional
“Worst of Friends,” The Economist, October 3, 1998.
Byung-joon Ahn, “Japanese Policy Toward Korea,” in Japan’s Foreign Policy after the Cold
War. Coping with Change, ed. Gerald L. Curtis (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1993), p.266.
In contrast, during his November 1998 trip to Japan, Chinese President Jiang Zemin
repeatedly issued public condemnations of Japan’s wartime behavior, and China failed to
receive a written apology.
diplomatic approaches toward Pyongyang as attempts to play the two Koreas against
one another in order to extract maximum benefits for Tokyo. Moreover, many South
Koreans believe that most Japanese officials want to keep Korea divided because of
Tokyo’s fears that a unified Korea — particularly one potentially armed with nuclear
weapons and able to access low-cost North Korean labor — would pose a military
and economic threat to Japan. Thus, until the Kim government assumed power in
1998, South Korea usually insisted that Japan consult with Seoul before improving
relations with North Korea.
Some analysts have argued that domestic politics worsened the gap between
Japan and South Korea over the appropriate North Korea policy. Throughout the
Cold War, Japan’s Socialist Party often advocated improving relations with
Pyongyang. In part to appease the Socialists, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party
(LDP) made many overtures toward North Korea. As a consequence, Japan
frequently flirted with a two-Korea policy partially for domestic political reasons.
In recent months, domestic political changes in Tokyo and Seoul have helped to
narrow the gap over North Korea policy. In Japan, a series of electoral defeats have
reduced the Socialist Party to a fraction of its former size, thereby reducing the need
for the LDP to reach out to Pyongyang simply to placate the Socialists. More
importantly, on the South Korean side, President Kim has reversed Seoul’s longstanding opposition to stronger relations between Pyongyang and Tokyo.
Because Japanese aid to North Korea is crucial to the success of Kim’s sunshine
policy, President Kim has encouraged Japan (and other nations) to normalize relations
with North Korea. South Korea, joined by the U.S., also has urged Tokyo to resume
shipments of food aid to Pyongyang, a move Japan has resisted thus far. Indeed, in
a marked reversal of the two countries’ traditional positions, it is now Japan that is
taking a hard line against North Korea, while South Korea is advocating a conciliatory
policy of economic and political engagement. In late 1999, Japan has backed away
somewhat from its refusal to deal with North Korea in the aftermath of the
Taepodong-2 missile launch, resuming charter flights to North Korea and on
December 1 dispatching a multiparty delegation led by former Socialist Party Prime
Minister Tomoiichi Murayama to Pyongyang to help jumpstart normalization talks
that have been stalled since 1992.
A Deemphasis on Economic Competition and Trade Imbalances. The
economic relationship between South Korea and Japan has been characterized as one
of complementarity and competition.10 On the one hand, firms in both countries have
benefitted from extensive bilateral trade flows. In 1996, the last full year before the
South Korean economy was sent reeling by corporate and financial crises, Japan was
South Korea’s second-largest export market and second-largest source of imports,
with total trade surpassing ¥3.2 trillion ($26.6 billion at ¥120 = $1.00). Shipments
to Japan accounted for over 7% of South Korea’s exports. Similarly, South Korea
Douglas Ostrom, “Complementarity and Competition: Japan-South Korean Trade,”
(Washington, DC: Japan Economic Institute, 1998).
ranked second to the U.S. as Japan’s most important export market and source of
On the other hand, South Korean and Japanese firms compete head-to-head in
a variety of sectors, most notably automobiles, semiconductors, shipbuilding, and
steel. Additionally, Seoul’s trade deficit with Tokyo since the 1950s often has been
a source of bilateral tension. In particular, South Korea’s exceptional reliance on
imports of Japanese intermediate goods, including electronic parts and machinery, has
worried Seoul that it has become economically dependent upon its former colonizer.
Periodically, the Korean side also has charged that Japanese companies are engaging
in mercantile practices by refusing to transfer technology to Korean firms.12 In the
past, South Korean governments used the trade deficit as a justification for requesting
bilateral economic assistance from Japan, and for demanding that Japan open its
markets to Korean products.
In recent years, trade issues have not created the same tension as in the 1980s
and early 1990s, despite the fact that South Korea’s bilateral trade deficit continued
to hit record-breaking highs in the middle of the decade, peaking at ¥1.46 billion in
1996.13 Part of the reason for the disappearance of trade disputes from the bilateral
agenda may be that Japan has accounted for diminishing shares of South Korean
exports and imports since 1990, primarily due to the explosion in South Korea’s trade
with the rest of East Asia. In 1990, for example, South Korea shipped 2.6 times as
many goods to Japan as to Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia combined.
By 1996, however, combined exports to these four countries had surpassed shipments
to Japan.14 Moreover, as mentioned above, the South Korean economic crisis led
Seoul to remove many barriers to Japanese imports.
Perhaps most significantly, President Kim and Prime Minister Obuchi have
institutionalized bilateral economic consultations. Under the two leaders’ March 1999
proclamation of an “Agenda for Korea-Japan Economic Cooperation,” economic
planners from the two sides have met to discuss establishing a Bilateral Investment
Treaty and a Free Trade Area. Furthermore, for the first time Seoul and Tokyo have
set up working level meetings to consult on policy in the proposed WTO Round of
trade talks. In the run-up to the negotiation, which opened in Seattle on November
30, 1999, both countries have adopted similar positions on a number of issues. What
is remarkable about the recent bilateral cooperation in the WTO is that during the
previous multilateral round of trade talks — called the Uruguay Round (1986-1993)
— the two sides failed to coordinate, despite possessing nearly identical bargaining
Marc Castellano, “Postcrisis Japan-South Korea Economic Relations: The Ups and Downs
of Trade and Foreign Direct Investment,” (Washington, DC: Japan Economic Institute,
“Seoul, Tokyo Agree on Scheme for Technology Transfer,” Far Eastern Economic Review,
July 23, 1992, 53.
Japanese Ministry of Finance, reprinted in Ostrom, “Complementarity and Competition,”
Ostrom, “Complementarity and Competition,” 2-3.
Future Relations between Japan and South Korea
Although recent developments have encouraged convergence between the two
countries, there are also still many points of contention. Lingering historical passions
remain, and could erupt into a major bilateral dispute over issues such as wartime
comfort women, territorial disputes, fishing rights, and continued Japanese trade
surpluses. Ethnic Koreans in Japan still face discrimination, and Seoul’s patience may
wear thin if the Japanese government fails to follow through on recent promises to
grant voting rights to this ethnic minority. At the popular level, although there are
signs that an increasing number of South Koreans accept a larger regional and global
role for Japan, public opinion polls in both countries reveal that mutual distrust
remains strong.15 South Koreans remain wary of steps that enlarge Japan’s defense
capabilities, including Tokyo’s recent decisions to develop indigenous military satellite
technology and to join with the U.S. in developing a theater missile defense system.
Many observers hope that the soccer 2002 World Cup, to be jointly hosted by Japan
and South Korea, will help to bridge the cultural gap, notably by making it easier for
Koreans and Japanese to travel between the two countries.
Although recent North Korea policy coordination between South Korea, the
U.S., and Japan has been remarkably successful, differences over how to deal with
Pyongyang are likely to surface. Since the Taepodong missile launch, Japan has
advocated a hard line against Pyongyang, a stance that occasionally has created
conflicts with Kim Dae Jung’s sunshine policy. Although Japanese officials have
resumed some of the economic assistance that they halted in the aftermath of the
Taepodong crisis, they may feel compelled to resume their harsh position if they
perceive that North Korea is failing to abide by promises to freeze the Taepodong
missile program. Additionally, since 1997, bilateral human rights issues between
Japan and North Korea have triggered fierce anti-North Korean sentiments in the
Japanese Diet. Most prominent are alleged abductions of Japanese citizens by North
Korean agents and the international travel restrictions on the Japanese wives of North
Korean men. Responding to the public mood in Japan, Tokyo has made additional
humanitarian aid to Pyongyang contingent on progress on outstanding human rights
issues. South Korea and the U.S., however, have been pressuring Japan to shelve its
human rights concerns.16
Additionally, concerns about antagonizing China may lead Seoul and Tokyo to
scale back their overtures toward one another. South Korea in particular is acutely
sensitive to shifts in triangular politics among the three countries. For example, when
Seoul broached the idea of a joint naval exercise with Japan this year, it was also
careful to make a similar offer to Beijing, which Chinese officials turned down. Some
experts warn that if China continues to remain cool toward improved ties with Seoul,
South Korean officials may feel less enthusiastic about strengthening ties with Tokyo.
Norman D. Levin, The Shape of Korea’s Future: South Korean Attitudes toward
Unification and Long-Term Security Issues (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1999). See also
JPOLL, a database maintained by the Roper Center [http://roperweb.ropercenter.uconn.edu].
For more on Japan’s human rights issues with North Korea, see B.C. Koh, “Japan and
Korea,” in The Korean Peninsula and the Major Powers, ed. Bae Ho Hahn and Chae-Jin Lee
(Sungnam, Korea: The Sejong Institute, 1998), p. 55-64..
The true test of improved bilateral relations will be whether the new-found
cooperation transcends the temporary convergence of security interests regarding
North Korea and whether such cooperation survives a change in leadership in Seoul.
President Kim has been the driving force behind Seoul’s warmer relations with all its
neighbors, including Japan. If, as many experts predict, Kim’s ruling coalition suffers
a defeat in the April 2000 parliamentary elections, Seoul could modify its sunshine
policy toward Pyongyang.
The U.S. Role in Japan-South Korean Relations
Many observers speculate that over the coming decade, leaders in the U.S. and
Northeast Asia will confront a number of challenging regional issues, such as the
possible reunification of the two Koreas, the sustainability of the 100,000 U.S. troops
in Asia, possible changes in the size and posture of the Japanese military, and policies
toward China. A greater degree of trust between Japan and South Korea would help
stabilize the region as they brace for these potential changes.
The United States will play an important role in shaping the future of JapanSouth Korea relations. Former U.S. Defense Secretary has been widely praised for
institutionalizing trilateral coordination on North Korea policy in his capacity as U.S.
North Korea Policy Coordinator, and many observers argue that U.S. leadership will
be vital for the “Perry process” to continue. Furthermore, as the major ally of both
Japan and South Korea, the U.S. is in a position to encourage and facilitate bilateral
and trilateral confidence-building measures. These steps will be critical to persuading
Japanese leaders that a potentially unified Korea is not a danger, and to convincing
South Koreans that a diplomatically more assertive and militarily capable Japan is not
a threat to their security.
APPENDIX: Chronology of
Japan-South Korean Relations
— Japan annexes the Korean Peninsula.
— Korea is liberated from Japanese rule. The U.S. and Soviet Union
agree that U.S. forces will administer Korean territory south of the 38th
parallel, while Soviet forces will administer Korean territory north of
the 38th parallel.
— The rule of South Korean President Syngman Rhee, who advocated a
staunch anti-Japanese posture.
— The period of Park Chun Hee’s presidency of South Korea. Park
encourages Japanese economic assistance and consciously adopts —
with some adaptations — Japan’s model of development.
— Japan and South Korea normalize relations. In lieu of reparations,
Japan pays $500 million in bilateral economic assistance as a “gesture
of good will.”
— The first Kim Dae Jung incident: While visiting Japan, South Korean
dissident Kim Dae Jung is kidnapped by South Korean agents and
brought aboard a South Korean ship. U.S. intervention saves Kim’s
life, but the incident causes relations between Seoul and Tokyo to
— President Park survives an assassination attempt, though his wife does
not. Relations are chilled because the assassin is a Korean resident in
Japan who had used a forged Japanese passport and a pistol stolen
from a Japanese policeman. Japanese Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei
attends Mrs. Park’s funeral.
— The Presidency of Chun Doo Hwan in South Korea, during which
Tokyo and Seoul begin holding regular summits to resolve bilateral
— The second Kim Dae Jung incident: After seizing power in a military
coup, South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan orders the arrest of
Kim Dae Jung. A court finds him guilty of anti-government activities
and sentences him to death. Japan protests, threatening to cut off aid
and to consider improving ties to North Korea if Kim is executed.
Under heavy U.S. pressure, Chun releases Kim.
— The textbook controversy: The Japanese Ministry of Education orders
that Japanese history textbooks be revised so as to downplay key
events in pre-War Japan’s invasion and occupation of Korea and other
East Asian countries. South Korea protests. A compromise is
— Summit diplomacy begins: Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro
Nakasone visits South Korea as President Chun’s guest, the first
official meeting between the leaders of the two countries. From 19831998, the two countries hold annual summits.
— The “comfort women” issue erupts: Press reports reveal that hundreds
of thousands of women — primarily Koreans — were forced to
provide sexual services to Imperial Japanese soldiers during World
War II. The Japanese government argues that civilians recruited and
administered the comfort women.
— In its second inquiry into the comfort women issue, the Japanese
government admits that military authorities had administered the
comfort women stations. However, Tokyo argued that because Japan
had already paid reparations in its normalization agreements with
various Asian nations, the government did not owe any compensation
to the surviving comfort women.
— North Korea announces its intention to withdraw from the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty, ushering in an unprecedented period of U.S.South Korea-Japan consultations.
— North Korea test-fires a medium range Nodong-1 missile into the Sea
of Japan that is believed to be capable of hitting targets in the western
half of Japan.
— Japan & South Korea begin military-to-military discussions in Hawaii.
— The U.S. and North Korea finalize the “Agreed Framework” in
Geneva, under which North Korea will halt the operations and
development of its nuclear weapons program in exchange for a
package of nuclear energy, economic and diplomatic benefits.
— South Korean and Japanese military officials meet in Washington, DC.
— The U.S., South Korea and Japan establish the Korean Peninsula
Energy Development Organization (KEDO) to coordinate the provision
of light water nuclear reactors to North Korea.
— The Japanese government established a private fund, the Asian
Women’s Fund, to compensate some comfort women.
— Hotline established between Japanese and South Korean air forces.
— A United Nations Human Rights Committee report calls for the
Japanese government, rather than private organizations, to compensate
comfort women, a call echoed by the South Korean government.
— Japan and South Korea begin negotiating a new fisheries agreement to
replace the one signed in 1965. Negotiations last for three years,
during which time the Japanese boats seize a number of Korean fishing
vessels for allegedly violating Japanese territorial waters.
— U.S., Japan and South Korea meet to discuss the U.S.-Japan Defense
Cooperation Guidelines that are under negotiation.
— U.S. and Japan agree to new Defense Cooperation Guidelines.
— With its foreign exchange reserves dwindling to almost nothing, South
Korea requests a support from the International Monetary Fund and
other foreign aid donors. Of the $58 billion rescue package, Japan
promises $10 billion in bilateral assistance loans, far larger than any
other country. As a precondition for its aid, Japanese officials
reportedly insist that South Korea agree to dismantle anti-Japanese
— Kim Dae Jung elected President of South Korea.
— South Korean Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil visits Tokyo to lay the
groundwork for a South Korea-Japan summit later in the year.
— North Korea launches a Taepodong-2 missile over Japan, igniting a
wave of protest in Japan. Tokyo suspends its participation in KEDO
and suspends economic and official contacts with North Korea.
— South Korean Kim Dae Jung travels to Tokyo for a summit with
Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. The two leaders proclaim a
“new partnership.” Obuchi delivers a written apology — a first — for
Japan’s wartime aggression against Korea; a fisheries pact is signed on
eve of the summit; President Kim pledges to drop barriers to many
— Japan pulls out of a meeting to finalize the cost sharing arrangement
for the KEDO-led construction of two light water nuclear plants in
— Under heavy U.S. pressure, Japan rejoins KEDO discussions on
financing nuclear reactors.
— President Kim and Prime Minister Obuchi meet in Seoul. In a reversal,
Obuchi announces his support of Kim’s “sunshine policy” of engaging
North Korea. Kim and Obuchi also explore a plan, dubbed “Agenda
21,” for increased bilateral economic cooperation.
— Japanese navy and coast guard ships fire warning shots against two
North Korean spy boats that had entered Japanese waters. The
Japanese vessels give up pursuit after the North Koreans enter
international waters. The incident marks the first active deployment of
Japanese destroyers since World War II and triggers renewed calls
within Japan for beefing up the country’s security.
— In Hawaii, the U.S., South Korea, and Japan establish the Trilateral
Cooperation and Oversight Group (TCOG) to improve trilateral
coordination on North Korea policy.
— Japanese and South Korean naval officials establish a liaison office to
exchange information on suspicious ships.
— Japanese and South Korean militaries establish communications
hotlines for use in emergencies.
— Japanese and South Korean air force chiefs meet in Seoul.
— Japan and South Korea agree to hold annual meeting of fisheries
— TCOG meeting in Tokyo. U.S. North Korea Policy Coordinator
William Perry discusses forthcoming 4-day trip to Pyongyang.
— U.S. North Korea Policy Coordinator William Perry begins 4-day trip
— Two-day TCOG meeting begins in Seoul: U.S. North Korea Policy
Coordinator William Perry briefs U.S., South Korean, and Japanese
officials on his trip to Pyongyang.
— Japanese Vice Foreign Minister visits Seoul to discuss ways to deepen
bilateral relations, including coordinating North Korea policy.
— In Tokyo, the first meeting of the South Korea-Japan Consultative
Meeting on the New Round of the WTO.
— Japan and South Korea establish a civilian-led consultation body to
discuss promotion of bilateral cultural exchanges.
— Amid reports that North Korea will again test its Taepodong-2 missile,
Japan cancels a planned Diet mission to Pyongyang.
— TCOG meeting in Washington, DC.
— South Korea lifts its 20-year old restrictions on imports of selected
— Japan approves $1 billion in funding for KEDO.
— Japanese officials state that Tokyo will withhold its $1 billion financial
contribution to the KEDO-led construction of two nuclear plants in
North Korea if Pyongyang launches a new test of the Taepodong
— South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and Japanese Prime Minister
Keizo Obuchi meet and agree that China’s accession to the WTO is
— South Korea and Japan hold their first-ever joint military exercise, a
seaborne search-and-rescue operation. Following the exercise, two
South Korean destroyers make a goodwill call in the Japanese port of
— Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura states that if North
Korea conducts another missile test, Japan may suspend cash
remittances to North Korea from pro-Pyongyang Koreans living in
— The Japanese Diet recognizes its rising sun flag and imperial song as
the national flag and anthem, respectively, without drawing any official
protest from South Korea.
— North Korea issues an extensive list of preconditions for normalization
— In Tokyo, Japanese and South Korean Foreign Ministers agree to begin
negotiating a bilateral investment treaty, and to establish a hotline
between the two foreign ministries.
— In Tokyo for a 5-day visit, South Korean Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil
delivers a formal invitation for Japanese Emperor Akihito to visit
— In Japan, South Korean Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil proposes the
creation of an East Asian economic community involving Korea,
Japan, China, and Russia. He also calls for the creation of an Asian
Monetary Fund, originally a 1997 Japanese proposal to deal with
regional economic crises.
— In Berlin, U.S. and North Korean negotiators reach an agreement in
which North Korea defers further missile tests in return for Clinton
Administration steps to lift major U.S. economic sanctions.
— Trilateral summit between President Clinton, Japanese Prime Minister
Obuchi, and ROK President Kim in Auckland, New Zealand.
— With the approval of South Korea and Japan, the U.S. eases sanctions
against North Korea.
— Japanese Ambassador to South Korea proposes the creation of JapanSouth Korean free trade zone, an undersea tunnel, the joint launch of
weather satellites, and a Eurasian gas pipeline.
— Japanese and South Korean Foreign Ministers consult over Japan’s
lifting of sanctions against North Korea.
— U.S. North Korea Policy Coordinator, William Perry, issues his report
recommending that the U.S. normalize diplomatic relations, relax
economic sanctions, and “take other positive steps” to induce North
Korea to freeze its missile and nuclear weapons programs.
— Three-day Japan-South Korean ministerial talks begin on Cheju Island,
South Korea. The two sides discuss North Korea policy and the future
creation of a multilateral Northeast Asia security forum.
— Japan resumes charter flights to North Korea, which had been
suspended following the August 1998 Taepodong-2 missile launch over
— Two-day TCOG meeting begins in Washington, DC one week before
the U.S. and North Korea resume bilateral talks in Berlin.
— Japan, South Korea, China summit.
— Former Japanese Prime Minister Tomoiichi Murayama leads 16member multiparty delegation to North Korea to request the reopening
of normalization talks between the two countries.
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