Tag Archive | "Japan"

Korea Faces Decision on China Because of the Quad

By Terrence Matsuo

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has breathed new life into the concept of the Quad, which includes Australia, Japan, and India. There has been media speculation that the grouping will expand to other states, such as South Korea, because of its shared interests with Quad members. Experts say that while South Korea is unlikely to join the Quad, there are opportunities for it to partner with the bloc.

Just as the Trump administration’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” strategy has roots in earlier concepts, the Quad is another initiative with older roots. During an online webinar hosted by the Sejong Institute and the Heritage Foundation, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea and Japan Marc Knapper said that the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia first came together to cooperate in humanitarian relief actions after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. “This grouping’s kind of waxed and waned over the years, but I think it’s now waxing, and it’s now growing out of a recognition that we do have shared challenges,” he said.

South Korean officials have indicated their concerns about the Quad, emphasizing that they have not been invited to participate in those discussions. Speaking to the Asia Society at the end of September, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said: “We don’t think anything that ultimately shuts out, and is exclusive of the interests of others is a good idea.” Director-General Ko Yun-ju of the North American Affairs bureau in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs echoed the foreign minister’s remarks, saying that Korea is focused on transparency, openness, and inclusiveness. “We are following those principles when we take consideration of the new initiative from the other countries of the regional cooperation,” he said, during the Sejong/Heritage event.

Officially, members of the Quad have identified a wide range of issues where they believe they can deepen cooperation. According to remarks before their meeting in Tokyo earlier in October, the foreign ministers identified topics like the coronavirus pandemic, infrastructure and economic development, and regional stability. Col. David Maxwell, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies said that this wider interest differentiates the Quad from NATO, an organization it has been compared to. “To have the Quad built on a foundation that is more than just military cooperation is what will make the Quad strong and longer lasting, to the mutual benefit of all the participants,” he said.

Pointing to similarities between the American Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy and the Korean New Southern Policy, Col. Maxwell said that maintaining freedom of access in the region, and cybersecurity are possible areas where Korea could partner with the Quad. “Since South Korea is the only nation to go from a major aid recipient to a major donor nation, I think that it would participate in other kinds of humanitarian and economic development in the region as part of a Quad Plus,” he added.

But not all experts are so optimistic about South Korea participating in activities led by the Quad. “A lot of these other issues – environmental, economic, dealing with the pandemic – need to be dealt with by far more than just the four countries of the Quad,” observed Dr. Gregg A. Brazinsky, the director of the Asia Studies Program at George Washington University.

The reason Korea has kept the Quad at arms length is because of its implicit focus on addressing China. Although it is unusual for diplomatic initiatives to specifically target a particular state, Dr. Brazinsky says, “I think you have to read the writing on the wall a little bit with something like this.” He pointed to recent clashes on the border between India and China, and longstanding Japanese concerns over Chinese incursions into its territorial waters. “When I look at the Quad, it seems that there are other areas where they can cooperate, but it also seems that the most prominent, common objective that the countries who are members have is containing China,” said Dr. Brazinsky.

Some Korean commentators warn Seoul against participating in the Quad because of this focus on China and a brewing cold war between Beijing and Washington. Professor Moon Chung-in, an advisor to the Blue House has said Korea’s participation in the Quad could force an “existential dilemma” that would put Korea “on the front line of a new Cold War era.”

“During the 45 years of the Cold War, Koreans suffered from the division of the peninsula and the ensuing war, an entrenched military standoff, and the limitations of a divided country,” writes Professor Moon in a column for the Hankyoreh. “Thus, they’re hardly about to welcome yet another cold war.”

But experts say Korea may not be able to maintain its midway point between the U.S. and China. “When you think about Korean history, it’s a disaster,” said Dr. Michael Green, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, during an online webinar. He pointed out that when Korea tried to maintain strategic ambiguity between Qing China and Imperial Japan, Tokyo invaded. When U.S.-Korea relations were ambiguous after World War II, North Korea invaded. “History shows that when Korea tries to play this strategic ambiguity game between the big powers, it doesn’t end well,” Dr. Green said.

Calls for Korea to reconsider its strategic position between Beijing and Washington are not coming only from the U.S. side. A CSIS survey of Korean thought leaders found that 80% of respondents believed South Korea should prioritize security cooperation with the U.S. over relations with China. “Seoul now needs to recognize that continuing to keep an ambiguous stance between the US and China might make it the biggest victim of the intensifying rivalry between the two superpowers,” said a recent editorial in The Korean Herald, an English-language newspaper in Korea. “Its economic interests with China cannot be allowed to undermine its vital security alliance with the US.”

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia Abraham Denmark says that the Quad is just part of the larger challenge facing Korea. “If the United States is going to be increasingly focused on China in our geopolitics, then Korea’s going to need to figure out how it’s going to orient towards that,” he said. “How does the U.S.-Korea alliance handle the China question, be it in the Quad, outside the Quad, bilaterally, unilaterally, whatever it may be.”

Because of Korean ambivalence towards the Quad, experts say diplomats in both Washington and Seoul will need subtle diplomacy to manage stress in the bilateral relationship. “I think it’s important that there be some avenue for consulting with South Korea about what is going on in the Quad,” said Dr. Brazinsky. “But at the same time, I think it’s important that the United States doesn’t push South Korea too hard to be part of [the Quad].”

“There’s got to be open communication, built on a foundation of trust between the US and South Korea,” said Col. Maxwell. “Both sides have to be upfront about the challenges that they face, a clear articulation of their interests, and they’ve got to make decisions based on trust and transparency.”

Terrence Matsuo is a writer and analyst of American foreign policy in the Indo-Pacific region and a Contributing Author for The Peninsula. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Photo from the U.S. Department of State’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Suga Likely to Maintain “New Normal” in Korea-Japan Relations

By Terrence Matsuo

On September 17, former chief cabinet secretary Suga Yoshihide officially succeeded Abe Shinzō as prime minister of Japan. Although his arrival as leader presents a chance to stop the downturn in relations with South Korea, experts and analysts say both he and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea will face difficulties in addressing long-standing barriers to cooperation.

Since taking office, Seoul-Tokyo relations under Prime Minister Suga have started off rather cordially. The new Japanese leader held a phone conversation with his South Korean counterpart on September 24, and the Japanese newspaper Nikkei quoted Prime Minister Suga telling reporters after the call: “I told President Moon that we cannot leave our bilateral relationship, which has been extremely damaged by matters such as the [wartime] laborer issue, as it is.” According to the newspaper, the Blue House said President Moon told his counterpart that Korea and Japan “should find the best solution for the forced laborers.”

The telephone conversation comes after a flurry of hopeful public statements and letters by South Korean officials. President Moon sent a letter to Prime Minister Suga to congratulate him on becoming prime minister, while Prime Minister Suga responded with his own letter calling for “forward-looking” relations. In addition to South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, Yonhap reported that Rep. Lee Nak-yon, of the ruling Democratic Party, also expressed congratulations to Prime Minister Suga. “I hope for the elevation of Japan’s national destiny and an improvement in South Korea-Japan relations,” the news service quoted him saying at a party meeting.

Experts say that the introduction of a new Japanese leader is a welcome breath of fresh air for the bilateral relationship. Karl Friedhoff, a fellow for public opinion and Asia policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, pointed to past Korean opinion polls which found Prime Minister Suga’s predecessor to be less popular than even North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un. “I think with Suga coming in, at least there’s a sense that this is a reset,” Mr. Friedhoff said in a telephone interview. While recommending some caution, he added: “At least now, the door’s ajar. It’ll be difficult to open it further, but it sounds like South Korea’s open to trying to at least think about moving this forward.”

Academics warn that past history suggests that positive relations between South Korea and Japan are short-lived events. Dr. Kirk Larsen, an East Asia history professor at Brigham Young University, pointed to meetings between Prime Minister Obuchi Keizō and President Kim Dae-jung in 1998, and Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō and President Roh Moo-hyun in 2004. “In all cases, what initially seemed to be really significant breakthroughs that hopefully lead to future progress, end up backtracking over issues like Takeshima/Dokdo, or forced labor or comfort women or things like that,” he said in a telephone interview.

Domestic politics in both South Korea and Japan remain a significant barrier towards improving the bilateral relationship. Anti-Japanese sentiment among President Moon’s progressive base makes it difficult for him to move forward on rapprochement with Japan, said Dr. Hosoya Yūichi, a professor at Keiō University in Japan. During an online webinar hosted by the Stimson Center, he also said that the Moon administration has removed experts on Japan from the policymaking process. “That’s why I say that President Moon Jae-in is in the middle of the darkness on how to settle the current difficult situation,” he said.

Other experts point to the usefulness of using Japan to shore up lagging approval ratings in Korean politics. “I think in the short term, Moon seeks to improve relations with Japan, but he will fail,” said Dr. Sung-yoon Lee, a professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. “He will fail because, not necessarily of the new Japanese prime minister’s stance, but because Moon, will find it necessary next year to fan the flames of anti-Japanese sentiment.” Even if he is not running for reelection, Dr. Lee said in a telephone interview that President Moon entering his lame duck period “bodes ill for any dramatic improvement in the bilateral relationship.”

A similar dynamic is also observed in Japan, where the public has hardened against South Korea. Tobias Harris, a senior vice president at Teneo Intelligence and author of a well-received biography of Abe Shinzō, observed that public opinion favored actions like removing South Korea from the trade whitelist. “That hard line to South Korea was actually more popular than [Prime Minister Abe’s] government was,” he said during an online webinar hosted by the Heritage Foundation. “This means even people that didn’t even particularly like him thought that that was the right approach.”

Even if both governments were interested in repairing relations, there are other domestic concerns which will take up bandwidth in both the Blue House and the Kantei. Both governments are working to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, and addressing its economic aftereffects. “The political capital it would take for either side to make a significant gesture is going to be really significant,” said Mr. Friedhoff. It is hard to envision a priority on foreign policy when “they’re dealing with so many things right now domestically.”

Additionally, both President Moon and Prime Minister Suga have a limited timetable before they face the voting public. While the former may not be on the ballot, the later will especially need to find successes in order to win his own mandate for leading the country. “There might be some space if both sides were to say this is the one thing we really want to try to accomplish,” said Dr. Larsen. “But there are a lot of rather pressing issues, not least the coronavirus, economic concerns, and a whole host of other things.”

Rather than introducing an era of good feelings, experts say that focusing on shared interests and preventing a further degradation in the relationship may be a more realistic goal for Seoul and Tokyo. “The status quo isn’t great, but it’s becoming kind of a new normal and we’re starting see that both sides are now willing to kind of cooperate,” said Mr. Friedhoff. South Korea and Japan should “start to look for things that put both leaders in a place to benefit.” He suggested one example would be economic cooperation in southeast Asia, where both sides are actively involved and have fewer sensitivities related to history.

Ultimately, observers say it will take statesmanship from both sides to recognize there are more benefits from working together than against each other. “A world in which Japan and South Korea were close, cooperative friends would be a much better one than the one we have right now,” said Dr. Larsen, noting that both are advanced democracies and share many interests in spite of their difficult historical relationship. “A future in which the two are friends and allies and cooperate would be a really good future. It’s just hard to know how to get there.”

Terrence Matsuo is a writer and analyst of American foreign policy in the Indo-Pacific region and a Contributing Author for The Peninsula. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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What Can We Learn from Korea-Japan Normalization?

By Mintaro Oba

Fifty-five years ago, on June 22, 1965, the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan signed the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea to formally normalize the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

It had been a long, complicated road to get to that point.  Negotiations on the treaty had started thirteen years before, in 1952.  They had sputtered along since.  Ten years later, as close as three years before the treaty was signed, the State Department was assessing in a briefing memo that “prospects for early normalization . . . are not bright.” It noted the array of difficult issues requiring resolution between South Korea and Japan, from fishing rights to sovereignty over what the paper referred to as “an inconsequential islet.”  But, it emphasized, the “Korean claims for compensation, based on Japanese occupation from 1910 to 1945,” was the central dispute, and “if it can be settled, the other issues can be settled.”

Some observers will rightly take this fifty-fifth anniversary to reflect on the substantive legacies of the normalization treaty – how it created the formal framework for the bilateral relations and cooperation between Japan and South Korea today, or on the opposite side of the spectrum, how it defined the battlefield in Korea-Japan disputes for over half a century in resolving some issues, resolving some in a way that left the door open to future controversy, and simply declining to address others.  But one legacy that deserves more attention is the precedent that the normalization treaty set for how Korea-Japan deals come to fruition – and the lessons it holds for progress between the two countries has so often been unsustainable.

The Korea-Japan normalization process was finally made possible after thirteen years by a very narrow alignment of domestic and geopolitical factors: a strong Korean leader able and willing to prioritize practical benefits of cooperation with Japan, outside pressure from the United States, and Japanese conservatives seeing Korea as strategically indispensable.

It is easy to overemphasize one or both of the first two factors.

It certainly wouldn’t be hard to correlate Syngman Rhee’s virulent anti-Japanese sentiments with the lack of initial progress toward normalization; or Park Chung-hee’s 1961 rise to power in South Korea with new momentum in the long-stalled normalization talks given his practical interests in leveraging the treaty to generate national growth and maintain U.S. support.  But these explanations by themselves don’t quite cut it, especially since they don’t account for the fact that Prime Minister Chang Myon’s democratic government, which succeeded Syngman Rhee’s authoritarian regime and was ultimately overthrown by Park Chung-hee, had made normalization a priority. In fact, a 1961 U.S. government assessment observed that “just prior to [Park’s] coup the Japanese and Korean governments had begun to make progress in their efforts to reconcile their differences.”

It also wouldn’t be hard to assume that U.S. pressure was the reason South Korea and Japan came together.  But that explanation by itself, too, isn’t sufficient given that the negotiations still took thirteen years.  The documentary record shows that U.S. officials were highly sensitive to the complex politics around alliance management in both Japan and South Korea, and sought to nudge the normalization process along without triggering a backlash through more direct intervention.  “Both sides resent any American role that that could be interpreted as interference – almost any overt U.S. role would be so interpreted by Communist propaganda and the Japanese Left,” assessed a 1962 background paper for an NSC meeting, “at the same time, each side is constantly seeking to invoke U.S. influence and money against the other in a complex tangle of issues where a misstep for the U.S. would be very easy and could be quite damaging.”  By 1964, the U.S. Embassy Tokyo was advocating in a cable that while the United States had “played a game of sincere friend of both sides, encouraging them to settle differences but not wishing to mix in ourselves,” it was time for a “more positive U.S. role.”  Still, the contemplation of more proactive U.S. pressure on the normalization talks was a reflection of the fact that they had made progress and were close to the finish line. It was not the cause of the two countries reaching an agreement.

The critical ingredient that effectively leveraged new Korean leadership and U.S. influence to conclude the normalization treaty was the support of Japan’s most conservative political leaders and factions.  On the Korean side, Syngman Rhee’s authoritarian regime had been replaced by South Korea’s Second Republic in 1960.  But the Japanese Prime Minister who was in charge from 1960 to 1964, Hayato Ikeda, did little to take advantage of the situation and drive the normalization talks forward. Ikeda – whom Charles De Gaulle famously derided as “that transistor salesman” – was focused on economic growth and favored a “low posture” that aimed not to rock the boat at home and abroad.

Below the formal level, though, the foundation for progress was being laid.  By 1961, a pro-South Korean group within Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party was strongly pushing for progress on Japan-Korea normalization negotiations.  Led by former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, the group included major LDP faction leaders and members – including Shigeru Yoshida, Eisaku Sato, Kakuei Tanaka, and more.  Kishi in particular was a nationalist and revisionist who had no qualms about papering over war crimes but envisioned Japan playing a stronger, more independent regional role.  The group saw normalizing ties with South Korea as key to Japan playing a stronger role in the Cold War.  Increasingly, too, the LDP and Japanese business constituencies were also seeing both economic and political value in investing in South Korea.  Ichiro Kono, a major LDP faction leader, reportedly told Ikeda that the Korea’s need for money was “the greatest opportunity since the end of the war to solve the Japanese-South Korean problem.”

Even as Ikeda’s modest approach kept formal progress between Japan and South Korea slow, informal parliamentary and business interactions were thus growing and a critical consensus in favor of prioritizing normalization was taking hold in key LDP factions.  When Eisaku Sato, Kishi’s brother and a key player in this consensus, succeeded Ikeda as Japan’s prime minister in 1964 – combined with efforts by Park Chung-hee and the United States – normalization was finally made possible.  Most critically, Japan’s foreign minister and lead negotiator, Etsusaburo Shiina, made a visit to Seoul to deliver an apology that helped pave the way for the conclusion of the normalization negotiations.  That couldn’t have happened without Sato and other Japanese conservatives viewing some form of apology as a necessary move in service of Japan’s strategic objectives. U.S. pressure to make helpful gestures to move normalization forward and a receptive leadership in Seoul were also critical elements.

At the end of the day, the stars had to align between Korean leadership, Japanese ruling party conservatives, and U.S. diplomats to make the normalization treaty happen.  No one or two of these factors in isolation could have led to the conclusion of the normalization treaty.  In the fifty-five years since, almost every agreement between Korea and Japan has also required the alignment of these three factors.  Most significantly, and ironically, because of the dominance that the LDP has managed to cement in Japanese politics over those decades, these agreements have often continued to require at least the tacit acquiescence of the conservatives most likely to embrace the sort of historical revisionism that has fueled many Korea-Japan disputes.

This continuing salience of right-wing voices in Japanese domestic politics has been a huge factor in why Korea-Japan relations has been so unstable, ensuring that moments of reconciliation rely on a temporary strategic calculations rather than lasting shifts and why Japanese apologies are constantly called into question soon after they’re made.  And it raises questions about whether a U.S. approach to Korea-Japan relations that emphasizes reconciliation is really the right fit for an era in which the foundation for further reconciliation is fragile.

Reporting on the signing of the normalization treaty in 1965, UPI explained that it “put a formal end to fifty years of mutual enmity.”  In retrospect, normalization wasn’t a formal end to anything, but a formal start to a nuanced, complicated bilateral relationship that has seen – and will continue to see — both cooperation and enmity.  The normalization treaty was not a treaty to end all treaties.  The more Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington recognize it was just a beginning – and reflect on the lessons of how it was negotiated to generate more sustainable outcomes – the more likely it will be that the next fifty-five years will be better.

Mintaro Oba is a former State Department official and expert commentator on U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as a Contributing Author for The Peninsula.

Photo from wwian’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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South Korea-Japan Ties Likely to Remain Frozen Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

By Terrence Matsuo

Relations between South Korea and Japan remain icy amid the global coronavirus pandemic. After a bruising 2019, with severe disputes over historical issues, experts caution that bilateral engagement is unlikely to emerge in the near future.

As noted in a previous post on this blog, the government in Seoul reacted angrily to the decision by Tokyo to limit arrivals from South Korea. The Japanese government said that the decision was necessary to limit further transmission of the disease within Japanese territory. But Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha later summoned Ambassador Tomita Koji to lodge an official protest. According to a readout released by the Ministry, she “pointed out that it is very inappropriate for the Japanese government to take such measure at this point,” and urged their removal.

Experts on South Korea and Japan say the tensions caused by historical disputes are likely to inhibit cooperation in confronting the coronavirus pandemic. Yuki Tatsumi is a senior fellow at the Stimson Center, and co-director of the East Asia Program. “Cooperation in any area has been derailed across the government due to the political tension, and I suspect the area of public health is probably among them,” she says.

Officially, leaders in Seoul and Tokyo recognize the need for international cooperation in dealing with the coronavirus, which first emerged in China. Both President Moon Jae In and Prime Minister Abe Shinzō have participated in a flurry of international meetings held this year via video link. There was the G20 summit held at the end of last month, and the ASEAN+3 summit held in mid-April.

In translated remarks released by the Blue House, President Moon told the assembled leaders that “active bilateral and multilateral cooperation within the region will be essential to provide quarantine and medical supplies in a timely manner to those in urgent need.”

His remarks were echoed by Prime Minister Abe. The Kantei released a transcript of a press conference he held after the same summit. “As the novel coronavirus disease is raging in the countries of ASEAN and Asia around Japan, it is extremely essential to expand cooperation in the region,” he said.

Both leaders emphasized the need to share information around which to build policies going further. President Moon called for a future meeting between the health ministers of the participating states, while Prime Minister Abe proposed “the establishment of an ASEAN center for the control of infectious diseases.”

Experts in Washington are hopeful that further cooperation in a multilateral setting is likely to continue, due to the tensions in the bilateral relationship. Ambassador Kathleen Stephens is President of the Korea Economic Institute of America, and previously served as the American representative to Seoul from 2008 to 2011. She says that multilateralism, and letting the experts talk to each other is the best decision for South Korea and Japan to make. “Let the facts and the science and pragmatism lead you towards the kinds of steps that would make sense,” Ambassador Stephens says.

The career diplomat adds that in her observation, experts “do want to share knowledge and they do want to cooperate.” Ambassador Stephens also said that the role of political leadership and diplomacy “is to help facilitate that and certainly not to get in the way of it.”

According to the public record, Korean and Japanese officials are talking to each other. Near the beginning of the month, Kim Jung Han, Director-General for Asian and Pacific Affairs in the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs held a teleconference with Takizaki Shigeki, his counterpart on the Japanese side. Both the South Korean and Japanese readouts confirm that they “agreed on the importance of close communication and cooperation between” their respective governments, as the South Korean readout notes in English.

But it remains to be seen if the diplomats will encourage the kinds of contacts and exchanges Ambassador Stephens identified. As Ms. Tatsumi warns: “The fact that the bilateral conversation on this issue has not moved…into more direct talks between the two countries’ public health authorities also is an indicator that the two countries have not been holding extensive conversation about the cooperation on COVID-19.

Publicly available information does show that Japanese public health officials have engaged their counterparts in other countries. On 21 February, the Japanese National Institute of Infectious Disease held a telephone meeting with the Chinese Center of Disease Control. According to a readout provided by the Japanese side, the meeting included a discussion on the state of affairs in both Japan and China, as well as sharing information. There were approximately fifteen attendees, including Director Wakita Takaji from NIID and Director George Gao from the CCDC.

According to the readout, the Japanese side pressed their Chinese colleagues for information on how the coronavirus spreads and methods to prevent it. As the number of confirmed cases continues to climb in Japan, it is clear that this is an area where Japanese officials remain vulnerable. Brad Glosserman is the deputy director for the Center for Rule Making Strategies at Tama University in Japan. He notes that “clearly [South Korea] has more experience dealing with hot spots,” which suggests tracking and tracing infections is a useful topic for Korean and Japanese officials to discuss.

Until health officials meet, there are other areas where positive bilateral cooperation could happen. South Korea has emerged as a key supplier of coronavirus test kits. On Monday, the New York Times reported that Yumi Hogan, wife of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, had personally negotiated for 500,000 test kits for the state. This came after South Korea had already promised up to 1.5 million test kits, according to Reuters. Speaking of the latter shipment, Ambassador Stephens said: “That was a pretty big step of bilateral cooperation.”

Still, experts caution that suspicions in both Seoul and Tokyo remain significant barriers. Professor Moon Chung-in of Yonsei University says: “Moon is willing to talk with Abe, but the Japanese side seems rather reluctant.” The advisor to both KEI and Cheong Wa Dae added: “Senior Japanese government officials’ negative and even sarcastic comments on South Korea’s successful management of CVID-19 reveal such tendency.”

On the other hand, Japanese officials are wary of become scapegoats used by the Korean side. Director Glosserman notes that in his observation, the view from Tokyo is that “the Moon administration prefers to use Japan as a political tool, a rallying point for domestic sentiment, and that Seoul will never relinquish the moral high ground [on history issues].”

The mutual disdain and political tension between South Korea and Japan could even move in the opposite direction, and encourage the unfortunate status quo. Ambassador Stephens notes that there are few domestic political incentives for highlighting bilateral cooperation. “In fact, they may perceive some political downside to doing that,” she says.

“A South Korean friend said that his government took no small pride in handling the disease and outperforming the Japanese,” said Deputy Director Glosserman. As South Korea receives international attention for its skill in managing the virus, the Japanese government has expanded its emergency declaration to cover all of Japan. “Some always want to compare Japan and Korea to gain mental satisfaction,” he says.

The historical issues between South Korea and Japan are complex, and resolving them would be difficult even under the best conditions. But in order to contain and control the coronavirus, pragmatism and cooperation on mutual interests is needed by both Korean and Japanese officials. “I think the politics have to get out of the way in a situation like this,” says Ambassador Stephens. Political leaders in both Seoul and Tokyo must “foster cooperation, rather than intentionally or unintentionally hinder it.”

Terrence Matsuo is a writer and analyst of American foreign policy in the Indo-Pacific region and a Contributing Author for The Peninsula. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from B Lucava’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Disrupting Supply Chains: Evidence on the Japan-Korea Conflict

By Stephan Haggard and Jeongsoo Kim

The economic success of the Asia-Pacific has rested in no small measure on its finely-tuned supply chains. These global production networks are coming under stress from the COVID-19 crisis, but also from the new political economy of trade. The U.S.-China trade war has had as one of its stated objectives a “decoupling” from China, which of necessity means reducing American dependence on Chinese suppliers.

The history controversy that sparked the downward spiral in Japan-Korea relations threatens a similar eventuality. We now have interesting survey data from Korea on how these effects operate. The data suggest that uncertainty about even small amounts of trade in highly-specialized products can loom large for the businesses involved. Yet it also shows that governments and firms respond to these risks in ways that may harm firms in the sanctioning country.

The Japanese Controls

It is important to note that the measures undertaken by Japan did not take the form of outright export bans; rather, they involved a tightening of administrative procedures and the suggestion—or threat—that such controls could in fact be instituted. In July of 2019, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry of Japan announced an “update of METI’s licensing policies and procedures on exports of controlled items to the Republic of Korea.” The update stated that Japan would restrict the export of Fluorinated Polyimide, Photoresist, Hydrogen Fluoride, and their related technologies by mandating an individual review for the three items (METI, July 1st, 2019). The three items share two similarities. First, they are critical materials for producing semiconductors and OLED screens, two crucial industries in South Korea. Second, the major Korean producers in this space–Samsung, SK Hynix, LG—have built complex supply chains that rely on these specialized inputs.

As a result of these measures, Japan effectively blocked export of liquid Hydrogen Fluoride for more than four months until it was finally approved in mid-November. Photoresist manufacturers were permitted to export in August for the first time, and Japan mitigated the export control on this product by moving from individual review to a special general bulk license in December. Japan resumed permissions to export Fluorinated Polyimide in September.

At the same time these new screening procedures were introduced, the METI also initiated “the public comments process for the amendment of the Cabinet Order removing the Republic of Korea from the Appended Table Ⅲ (so-called “white countries”) of the Export Trade Control Order” (METI, July 1st, 2019). After the public hearing period ended, Japan eventually removed South Korea from the white list and downgraded South Korea from a “preferred” to a non-preferred trade partner on August 2nd, 2019. As a result, Japanese exporters to South Korea no longer enjoyed a General Bulk Export License. Instead, they were required to seek permission from Japan’s export control authorities unless they acquired a Special General Bulk Export License, which requires more rigid standards than the General Bulk Export License.

In addition to the list control, Japanese authorities also could regulate any export and technology transfer to South Korea under a more general “catch-all” control when deemed necessary (METI, August 2nd, 2019). The potential magnitude of these controls—although not actually invoked–was particularly wide-ranging. According to Korean sources, total trade volume that potentially fell under the list and catch-all controls was about half of all Korean imports from Japan. Furthermore, among 4,898 items which were under the catch-all controls in 2018, 707 items were products in which Korea depended on Japan for more than 50% of imports of the product; Korea was completely dependent on Japan for 82 of these items.

A survey conducted by the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade (KIET) in September 2019, asked 1,051 South Korean manufacturers about the effects of the measures, and nearly 80% said that they anticipated no effects or that they were even positive (no effect [77.8%], slightly positive [1.0%], very positive [0.4%]). Only 10.8% of manufacturers reported a slightly negative effect, with 3.5% answering they would experience strongly negative effects (민성환, 강두용 2019, 22).

Yet when we drill down into the most-affected industries, the picture changes. The table below looks in more detail at the five major industry classifications anticipating the most negative effects; the table also provides more detail on the particular problems they foresaw. Fully 60% of semi-conductor manufacturers polled foresaw production disruptions of sub-contractors, even though an analysis we conducted of the Korean semi-conductor sector showed no statistically significant change in profitability between the 3rd quarter of 2018 and the 3rd quarter of 2019. 44% of respondents from the chemical industry expected supply interruptions while the rechargeable battery industry showed a particularly high response rate with respect to “increased uncertainty.”

The Perverse Effects of Controls

It has long been known that sanctions are of necessity costly to the sanctioning country. And there is evidence in this regard for Japanese firms in these sectors as well. For example, during the first month of Japan’s new export measures, Japanese Hydrogen Fluoride producers suffered a sharp decline in their stock prices. The stock price of Morita Holdings Corporation was 1,942 JYP on July 1st; it fell to 1,552 JYP on August 12th. The price of Stella Chemifa dropped from 2,930 JYP on July 1st to 2,460 JYP on August 7th (Yahoo Finance), declines of 20.08 and 16.04 percent respectively.

Of greater long-run interest is the fact that South Korea did not take the restrictions lying down. The episode sparked a rethink of its reliance on Japan for intermediate inputs and components, new efforts to diversify sources of supply and even import-substitution measures. South Korea’s National Assembly passed a supplementary budget measure to support substituting for Japanese products on August 2nd, 2019. Nor were the sums trivial: 65 billion won ($54.15 million as of 1 March 2020) was allocated to technology development, 28 billion won ($30.86 million) for reliability tests, and 32 billion won ($35.28 million) for evaluation of mass production of critical intermediate inputs. The South Korean government also increased budget support related to material and components from 827 billion won ($911.96 million) in 2019 to 2.1 trillion Won ($2.315 billion) in 2020, and provided loans worth of 2.5 trillion Won ($2.75 billion) to support investing in foreign companies that have needed technologies (산업자원통상부 소재부품총괄과 2019, 3). In part as a result of these efforts, the Korean firm SoulBrain Co Ltd succeed in developing and producing Hydrogen Fluoride of “12-nine” purity (0.999999999999 pure). South Korea’s Minister of Trade, Industry, and Energy went so far as to publicly announce that South Korea no longer depends on Japanese Hydrogen Fluoride (Song 2020).

Nor were these effects limited to gains for Korean companies. DuPont, the U.S. based chemical firm, announced in January of 2020 that it decided to invest $28 million to build Photoresist production facilities in South Korea (The Korea Herald 2020).


As trade and foreign direct investment has slowed globally in the last three years, globalization has been dealt a further blow by the increasing politicization of global supply chains. Even putatively small administrative changes have highly disruptive effects on the industries in question, and precisely because of the specialization that such supply chains permit. Yet these measures also carry risks for the sanctioner that the U.S. needs to consider as it goes down a more nationalist route. Being an unreliable partner has costs as foreign governments and firms seek to reduce their risks.

Stephan Haggard is the Lawrence and Sallye Krause Professor of Korea-Pacific Studies, Director of the Korea-Pacific Program and distinguished professor of political science at the University of California – San Diego.  Jeongsoo Kim is a masters student at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California, San Diego. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from the Republic of Korea Naval Academy. The views expressed here are the authors’ alone.

Photo from the Port of Tacoma’s photosream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Coronavirus Worsens Korea-Japan Tensions

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • Four Japanese citizens were prevented from boarding a plane destined for South Korea on March 9, the first day of South Korea’s travel ban on Japanese from entering the nation.
  • Japan, along with five other nations, banned foreigners from entering the country if they had visited certain hotspots such as
  • Daegu, Cheongdo county, and North Gyeongsang Province.
  • New measures from the Japanese government included the suspension of a 90-day visa-free program for Koreans.
  • As of March 13, a total of 123 countries and territories were restricting entry or enforcing tougher quarantine measures for people from South Korea.

Implications: The South Korean government’s responses to Tokyo’s new travel restrictions suggest that bilateral relations continue to suffer from tensions stemming from Japan’s reaction to the Korean court upholding the legitimacy of reparations claims by victims of forced labor during WWII. While 123 countries and territories have imposed varying levels of restrictions, Seoul has only imposed reciprocal travel restrictions on Japan. This unprecedented measure not only demonstrated how pathological pressures may be further damaging frayed relations but also revealed that countries in the region are still not coordinating their responses to the pandemic.

Context: Japan’s reaction to the pandemic strikes a contrast with how the U.S. government has approached travelers from Korea. While people who visited hotzones like Daegu are being quarantined, the U.S. government has not revoked its visa-free travel for Korean nationals.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, Hyungim Jang, and Ingyeong Park.

Image from the U.S. State Department flickr account.

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Japan Joins U.S. and South Korea in Backing Away from Criticizing North Korea’s Human Rights

By Robert R. King

Japan has backed away from criticism of North Korea for its human rights violations.  In the past Tokyo was highly critical because North Korean intelligence officials abducted Japanese citizens from Japanese soil and kept them in North Korea against their will for intelligence purposes in the 1970s and refused to release information about the victims.  Japan was a leading voice criticizing human rights in the North at the United Nations and other international organizations.  In the last year or so, however, Japan has quietly backed away from championing human rights in North Korea

Every year since 2004, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva has adopted a resolution criticizing North Korea’s human rights practices and making specific recommendations on areas for improvement.  This resolution has consistently been adopted after presentation of an annual report to the Human Rights Council by the United Nations “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Korea.”

The informal procedure for drafting and editing the text of UN resolutions involves one nation taking the lead in coordinating the effort—the “penholder.”  Diplomats of the country which holds the pen coordinate language with other interested UN member countries to develop the text of a consensus resolution.

For well over a decade, Japan has taken the lead in coordinating the production of the annual UN Human Rights Council resolution on North Korean human rights, which regularly is approved in March.  Japan has worked closely with the European Union, which is the “penholder” at the UN General Assembly, which also takes up a North Korean human rights resolution for consideration in New York each autumn.  Japan’s diplomats have earned an outstanding reputation for their work on the North Korea resolutions over the years.  The 2018 resolution, for example, was sponsored by 49 UN member countries, and it was approved by the UN Human Rights Council by consensus.

The human rights issue that roils Japan-North Korean relations is the abduction of Japanese citizens on Japanese soil by North Korean intelligence operatives.  Almost two decades ago, North Korea made modest progress on this issue and several abductees were able to return to Japan from North Korea, but that positive effort stalled soon after it began because of North Korean intransigence, and the abduction issue continues to be the prime North Korean human rights issue for Japan.

Timid Tokyo Stops Criticizing North Korean Human Rights

Japan has traditionally pressured North Korea on its human rights violations by calling attention to the North’s abduction of Japanese citizens.  In 2015, for example, the Japanese government hosted a symposium at the United Nations in New York City featuring speeches of key officials from Japan, the United Nations and the United States.  Japan’s Minister for the Abductions Issue emphatically voiced her government’s position: “The government of Japan strongly demands that North Korea promptly and honestly report the results of its investigation [into the abductions] and that it ensure both the safety of and the return of all Japanese abductees as soon as possible.  North Korea will have no future unless it resolves the abduction issue.”

North Korea under Kim Jong-un has taken an increasingly hostile attitude toward Japan for raising the issue of abductions, and Japanese leaders have seen North Korea’s medium range missile tests as a serious threat.  Pyongyang has resorted to increasingly vitriolic language and personal attacks against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

In the fall of 2018 Japan was singled out in a North Korean commentary which blasted “dishonest forces including Japan” for “working hard to cook up” the human rights resolution while President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un were meeting to resolve differences.  Although the failed Hanoi Summit made no progress in Washington-Pyongyang relations, the North Koreans have continued to criticize the Japanese.

In October 2019 Abe expressed his interest in meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un without conditions to discuss abductions, but he also expressed concern about the North’s ballistic missile testing.  The official North Korean news agency responded with particularly offensive language critical of Abe personally: “Abe is also a rarely ignorant man who dreams of making Japan a military power . . . and he is an under-wit as he is only able to say such crude words as ‘provocation,’ ‘outrage,’ ‘violation,’ ‘abduction,’ and ‘pressure.’”  The vitriolic tirade called the Japanese statesman “an idiot and villain” and said he should not even dream of setting foot in North Korea.

The North has made it clear repeatedly that it considers any effort to discuss its human rights to be highly offensive.  In December 2019, when the UN Security Council was considering discussing the North’s human rights record, North Korea’s Ambassador to the UN Security Council told his counterparts in New York that North Korea would consider any discussion of its human rights record a “serious provocation.”  In a letter to all current members of the UN Security Council,  the Ambassador warned, “If the Security Council would push through the meeting on ‘human rights issue’ of the DPRK . . . the situation on the Korean Peninsula would take a turn for the worse again.”

This kind of harsh and undiplomatic language has emphasized the lack of progress in Tokyo’s efforts with Pyongyang.  Apparently in an effort to improve relations, Japan has abandoned its long-standing leadership at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in calling attention to North Korea’s human rights abuses.  In early 2019, Japan made the decision not to sponsor the UN resolution in Geneva criticizing North Korean human rights.  The significance of that decision was highlighted by a public statement by the Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Abe government at a daily press briefing announcing that the Japanese government would not sponsor the UN Human Rights Council resolution.

An unidentified Japanese government source quoted by The Asahi Shimbun explained, “North Korea dislikes criticism from the international community about its human rights.  There is value in trying a different approach to change North Korea’s attitude.”  The Chief Cabinet Secretary explained, “We have reached this conclusion after assessing the outcome of the U.S.-North Korea summit and the situation around the abduction issue.”  Japan did not play its usual leading role in drafting the resolution in March 2019, but it did indicate that Japan would vote for the resolution which was submitted by the European Union.  No vote was called and the resolution was adopted by consensus, as has been the case for several years.

The Japanese government stayed away from taking a leading role in the criticism of North Korea’s human rights again this year.  The resolution will come up for a vote later this month, but Japan again did not play a role in drafting the text.  A joint letter from 54 non-government human rights organizations and human rights leaders urged the Japanese government to continue its leadership in promoting accountability for human rights abuses in North Korea.

“Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his government were once champions for international efforts to expose North Korean atrocities, including abuses against the North Korean people and Japanese citizens abducted by the government,” the letter said.  “The Japanese government should re-evaluate its decision to soften its stance, and again take the lead in strengthening international efforts to investigate North Korea’s abuses and hold government officials accountable for their crimes.”

Japan’s abandonment of its commitment to human rights principles has had no visible impact on Pyongyang.  There has been no acknowledgement from North Korea that Japan has backed down, there has been no indication of Kim Jong-un’s willingness even to meet with Prime Minister Abe.

Japan Joins the U.S. in Soft Peddling North’s Rights Abuses

Unfortunately, Japan’s decision to back away from pressing North Korea on human rights is not unique.  Japan is lining up with the United States and South Korea.  Once President Trump announced he would meet with Kim Jong-un in Singapore in spring of 2018, the U.S. President backed away from pressing North Korea on human rights.

The United States withdrew from any participation in the UN Human Rights Council.  While that decision was not related to specific North Korean issues, withdrawal certainly has negatively impacted what the United States has done and can do in calling attention to North Korea’s abysmal human rights record.  The United States prevented the UN Security Council from taking up the issue of North Korea’s human rights abuses in 2018 and 2019, although the United States previously played the key role  in successful efforts in the Security Council to consider this issue—three times under the Obama Administration in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and once under the Trump Administration in 2017.

The most recent Administration failure appropriately to criticize North Korea came just a few days ago when the U.S. Department of State released the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.  The list of human rights violations by North Korea against its own people and others was cataloged in painfully explicit detail.

But when Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made live on-camera comments calling attention to the release of the human rights report, the New York Times report suggested that politics distorted Pompeo’s view of the report, and serious questions emerged from his press conference:  “Four nations that are among the Trump administration’s top diplomatic adversaries were singled out on Wednesday for rampant human rights violations, raising questions of whether the State Department’s annual review of civil liberties protections worldwide was being politicized.”  The Secretary of State, however, did not publicly mention serious violations detailed in the report “by governments whose authoritarian leaders President Trump has been reluctant to criticize, including North Korea, Turkey and Russia.”

There is no attempt in the State Department human rights report to rank order countries which are human rights violators, but the four countries Pompeo singled out were certainly no worse in their human rights abuse than is North Korea.

The State Department report enumerated North Korea’s violations:  “Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearances by the government; torture by authorities; arbitrary detentions by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including in political prison camps; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; no judicial independence; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; widespread corruption; coerced abortion; trafficking in persons; the outlawing of independent trade unions; the use of forced or compulsory child labor; the use of domestic forced labor through mass mobilizations and as a part of the re-education system; and the imposition of forced labor conditions on DPRK overseas contract workers.”

Japan Joins South Korea in Playing Down North’s Human Rights Abuses

The South Korean government, like the United States and now Japan, has also backed down on criticizing North Korea.  The irony is the South Korea was just elected to membership in the UN Human Rights Council in October 2019.  The Human Rights Council is not a body composed of all 193 UN member states, but only 47 UN members are elected for a term on the Human Rights Council.  South Korea’s UN Ambassador said that “the international community has recognized the nation’s efforts and will in order to protect and promote human rights at home and abroad.”

Ironically, last November the South Korean government did not sponsor the annual UN General Assembly resolution critical of North Korea’s human rights record, although Seoul had sponsored every annual UN resolution from 2008 to November 2019.  This led Human Rights Watch and 66 other international human rights organizations to publish an open letter to President Moon Jae-in which was critical of his government’s attitude toward North Korea’s human rights record.

Furthermore, President Moon’s government budget boosted funds for inter-Korean cooperation while aid for South Korean human rights efforts were significantly cut, despite the fact that there has been no indication of progress on human rights issues in the North.  The South Korean Ministry of Unification’s Human Rights Foundation saw its funds cut 93 percent and the budget for the database maintained by the Ministry on North Korean human rights abuses was cut by 74 percent.

For Japan, ceasing its criticism of North Korea’s human rights record seems to have had no positive impact on resolving the Japanese abduction cases, nor has it led to any improvement of relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang.  Efforts by Tokyo to secure the release, or at least a definitive accounting of the fate of Japanese who were abducted, has been unsuccessful.  As far as the public record shows, the North has brushed aside and ignored Japanese approaches to resolve the abductions issue.

The net result appears to be that the United States, South Korea, and now Japan have backed away from criticizing North Korea’s horrific human rights abuses in the hope that this will lead to progress with North Korea on serious security issues, including Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development.  The North continues to conduct aggressive missile tests, hold regular military exercises, and ignore appeals from the U.S., South Korea, and Japan for denuclearization and reconciliation.  The North has also arrogantly ignored requests for meetings from the United States, South Korea and Japan.

Meanwhile, North Korea continues its human rights atrocities, actions that the highly respected UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea concluded fit the high threshold of “crimes against humanity.”  It is unfortunate that Japan now appears to have joined the United States and South Korea in ignoring the human rights violations of North Korea, hoping—without any evidence—that progress might be made in security policy or other areas.


Robert R. King is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute of America.  He is former U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights.  The views expressed here are his own.   

Photo from United Nations Photo’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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New Prospects for U.S.-Korea-Japan Cooperation

By Emanuel Pastreich

The difficulties in promoting cooperation between Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington, D.C. in response to the rising technological and economic strength of China has been the hot topic of discussion in the United States. The standard answer is to attribute the difficulties to historical issues that have created an emotional gap between these two allies of the United States.

Although the resentment of Koreans regarding the events of the pre-war period are real, and they do occasionally create major obstacles, it is far from certain that they are the primary cause of the divergent views. It is entirely natural that South Korea, Japan, and the United States have divergent geopolitical interests. It is also clear that all three countries are riven domestically by ideological schisms that make a “NATO of Asia” difficult, if not impossible.

The push for collaboration has focused largely on military and security, with China postulated as a potential threat that must be countered through deterrence. Although this perspective has become commonplace in Washington, D.C., it is far from the consensus among experts on security in the United States, let alone in South Korea and Japan. If anything, concerns about nuclear war, climate change, the unprecedented concentration of wealth, and the negative impact of artificial intelligence and automation on human society dwarf any security threat from China, or from North Korea.

Thus, it is no surprise that there is no consensus on forging deeper military ties centered on potential threats from North Korea and China in the three countries.

In addition, we must ask ourselves whether future conflicts will follow familiar patterns. The rapid evolution of new technologies, from 3D printing to micro drones, to next-generation artificial intelligence assures us of a future in which powerful destructive tools will be available to small groups at the same time that internet-based links bring together similar groups around the world for like purposes. Such developments could make many current weapons systems obsolete from the start.

Technological change has also encouraged deep fragmentation within nation-states, at home and abroad.  Simply raising military budgets, or preaching about our alliances, is not going to make us safer. We need to understand the nature of emerging threats that go beyond the schemata we have used previously to define security, and make sure that citizens in all three countries are properly informed.

Whether we are talking about preventing nuclear war, climate catastrophe, or hybrid conflicts at the national, regional and international levels, we need to use our creativity.

Cooperation between the United States, South Korea, and Japan in the security realm, either traditional or non-traditional, can be extremely positive, but it must be the result of a rigorous and robust discussion between the three countries on science, technology, the environment, policy and strategy as well. That discussion will not only assure us that we are spending the tax dollars of citizens on responses to security threats that are up to date and effective, but will also create a broad consensus among the citizens and experts involved in this discussion at every level that will help to avoid misunderstandings in the future.

The economic and technological integration between these three nations is considerable and offers paths for effective cooperation to address emerging challenges.

Rather than force through military-military cooperation which does not grow naturally out of a broader discussion, the three countries need to broaden and deepen cooperation in fields that deeply inform security, but which are not strictly military.


There is tremendous potential for cooperation in education between the United States, South Korea, and Japan which should be pursued in a systematic manner. For example, we can create sister relations between elementary schools, middle schools and high schools at the local level in all three countries that will be the foundations for deep exchanges. Internet-based learning can serve as an opportunity for students in the three countries to meet up with each other on-line, engage in common projects and learn about each other’s neighborhoods, regions and countries.

If those exchanges are carried on long-term, they may evolve into lifetime relationships that will bring the three countries together.

Whether it is American, Korean and Japanese first-graders making presentations about their neighborhoods for each other, or community college students discussing with their peers how we should respond to the threat of nuclear war or the fragmentation of society, these opportunities for direct collaboration in education would be immensely valuable in building lasting ties.


We cannot discuss the future of security unless our discussion is grounded in science. We must encourage the use of the scientific method in all three countries at every level, from discussions among friends up to the formulation of national policy.

Towards this end, we must promote long-term collaboration in scientific research between the three countries which is combined with a broader effort to promote scientific thinking in society as a whole.

There are projects in scientific research that involve researchers in the three nations already, as well as other nations. It would be possible to focus government funding on collaborative research between the three countries for long-term research projects on critical issues that would tie the three together in a stable and predictable manner and promote broader cooperation.

The joint research in biology and bioengineering between Professor Heiwan Lee of Hanyang University and Hara Masahiko of RIKEN that was active from 2010 to 2016 is a model for how joint collaboration can be conducted between Japan and South Korea. Bringing in an American institutional partner to that project would have made it even stronger.

But science is not just about research. It is critical that we invest heavily in increasing the understanding of science among citizens in the three countries and international cooperation in civic education is another critical field. Town Hall forums that encourage a scientific analysis of the challenges facing human society can be planned that link together citizens from the three countries and that provide, through translation, opportunities for deeper exchanges. Shared best practices between the United States, South Korea, and Japan, for example, could be valuable.

Technology and policy

Existing networks for cooperation for the development of technology and for the formulation of policy between the three countries can be enhanced and brought to focus on the needs of society, rather than financial profit.

For example, the development of the technology for next-generation electric batteries, solar cells, or wind-powered generators that will be in the public domain could be undertaken by the three countries. So also, programs for the development of new policies to implement those resilient technologies at the local level could be developed through cooperation between the three countries. The sharing of best practices could be done in the form of sister city/sister state relations, thereby encouraging collaboration between citizens.

The arts and the humanities

Cooperation in the performing arts, film, painting, sculpture, and writing could be a critical means of drawing the three countries together and creating a consensus on current issues. What we think about security in the United States, South Korea, and Japan will be determined by how “security” is represented and discussed. Security is ultimately a cultural, and not a technological, issue. Therefore the humanities are not secondary fields to policy and technology, but rather they are the front line where philosophy, morality, and methods of representation intersect.

The three countries can cooperate in making films that address the concerns of youth, the threat of climate change, the growing inequity in our society and numerous other topics. Providing reliable funding for such efforts can help artists and intellectuals from the three countries to join forces in efforts to create works of art that help citizens to conceive of current threats like climate change and nuclear war and that offer new directions for international collaboration between citizens for security.

Cultural exchanges can do much to deepen current discussions between the three countries. If we include creative activities like writing and music into otherwise dry and formalized discussions about security and trade, we can create an environment in which innovative approaches are possible and a more honest debate conceivable.

I have attended many meetings between high-level figures from government, industry, and research in which the conversation never went beyond the most superficial greetings. Such overly formalized meetings are tremendous loss because often the experts assembled represented a treasure of expertise.

Just having a chance to listen to a musical performance together, or create a work of art together, can transform such meetings into something remarkably positive. The arts and humanities can contribute not only to helping citizens to understand the challenges of our age, but also in facilitating a discourse between policymakers that goes beyond the rituals of state and gives real gravitas to the exchange.


The goal of enhancing cooperation between the United States, South Korea and Japan in the field of security is worthy. Achieving that goal will be a complex process. Identifying what exactly security will mean in the 21st century, and how we can cooperate in our response is a task that will require the three countries to cooperate closely at all levels, from kindergarten to advanced research laboratories, for the long term. Before we start signing any narrow military and intelligence agreements, let us make sure that we have worked together closely as citizens, experts and policy makers to understand scientifically the current challenges and to respond in a constructive and effective manner.

Emanuel Pastreich is the President of The Asia Institute and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are his own. 

Image from the U.S. State Department flickr account.

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Korea and Japan Take a Different Approach to Brexit

By Troy Stangarone

South Korea isn’t the only country that Japan feels has broken its trust. After years of investment in the United Kingdom based on the understanding that it would be a stable platform to export into the European Union, Asian investors find those investments now at risk from the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the economic bloc and its inability to manage the process. As countries deal with this change, South Korea has taken a decidedly more trade friendly approach than Japan.

With the United Kingdom set to leave the European Union, London needs to put in place new trade arrangements replace those that it will lose once it leaves the world’s largest common market. To achieve this, the United Kingdom has sought to roll over many of European Union’s trade agreements so that deals with those countries remain in place once the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

Without these roll over agreements, the trade between the United Kingdom and its European Union FTA partners would return to same terms that countries default to under the WTO. As a member of the European Union the United Kingdom cannot negotiate separate trade deals until it formally withdraws. The roll over agreements allow the United Kingdom and its trading partners to maintain the benefits of the FTAs that currently exist with the European Union. To date, the United Kingdom has signed 13 agreements to roll over trade deals with other countries or economic blocs such as Central America. Its agreements with South Korea and Switzerland being the most significant.

While the United Kingdom has sought to roll over its agreements with Japan and South Korea, both are relatively modest trade partners for the United Kingdom. Aside from China, the United Kingdom does a relatively small amount of trade with countries in East Asia. South Korea only accounts for 1.1 percent of the United Kingdom’s total trade. Japan was only the United Kingdom’s 14th largest export destination in 2018 with $8.4 billion in exports, while South Korea was its 15th largest export destination with $7.8 billion in exports. This contrasts with its $65 billion in exports to the United States or $46.7 billion in exports to Germany.

The United Kingdom imports relatively more from East Asia than it exports. However, the United Kingdom was still only the 16th largest export destination for South Korea and the 12th largest export destination for Japan. In 2018, it imported $12.9 billion worth of goods from Japan and $5.2 billion from South Korea. If China is excluded, the only two countries that exported more to the United Kingdom than South Korea from East Asia were Vietnam, which only exported a small amount more, and India which exported $9.7 billion.

In approaching their future trading relations with the United Kingdom, South Korea and Japan have taken different approaches. South Korea has agreed to a two year roll over deal that will allow the two sides to negotiate a more permanent trade agreement once the United Kingdom has left the European Union.

In contrast to South Korea, Japan is refusing to sign a roll over trade agreement in the belief that it can negotiate better terms with the United Kingdom on its own than it received in negotiating with the European Union as a whole. Despite the fact that Japanese firms will face increased barriers in the British market until a new deal is reached.

With the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, Japan’s move is what London is likely to see once it is no longer a part of the European Union – countries looking to gain more favorable trade deals with the United Kingdom than they would have gained with the European Union as a whole. London will simply have less leverage on its own than it did as part of a larger bloc.

In the case of Japan, it is speculated that it will seek to reach an agreement that leaves the United Kingdom with less access to the Japanese market than it enjoys now. While that would be a disappointing outcome for the United Kingdom, and counterintuitive to Japan’s desire to be a leader on free trade, London may not have the leverage to object. It is unlikely to secure a favorable deal from the United States and with the potential of a no-deal Brexit to sour relations between London and Brussels, it may face difficulty in securing a new deal with the European Union. Taking lesser access to the world’s third largest economy may just be a price it has to pay as Tokyo will be in a stronger position to manage a loss of trade from Brexit.

In contrast, by agreeing to a two year extension, South Korean firms are unlikely to see disruption in the British market while a new deal is being negotiated. It is unclear what objectives Seoul has for its future talks with London, but it will be interesting to see if it seeks to limit access to its domestic market in the same fashion as Japan or expand market access in the United Kingdom.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director and Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Graeme Maclean’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Tokyo Commemoration Focuses on Abduction of Japanese by North Korea in 1970s; Issue Is Far from Resolved

By Robert R. King

On September 16, 2019, in Tokyo, a thousand people gathered in a large-scale public meeting to mark the 17th anniversary of the first visit of then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to North Korea in 2002 for meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.  Koizumi followed that first visit with a second two years later on May 22, 2004.  These were the first meetings by a Japanese prime minister and the leader of North Korea.

These meetings are remembered not so much because they brought about a shift in the relationship between the North Korea and Japan, but because the North Koreans publicly admitted they had previously abducted Japanese citizens and they took the first steps toward making amends.  In retrospect the improvement in relations proved to be short lived.

The rally this week was held to remember that visit because during the leaders’ meeting, Kim Jong-il acknowledged the abduction of a number of Japanese citizens by North Korean operatives.  He made a verbal apology but blamed “some people” who wanted to show “heroism and adventurism” and refused to admit official responsibility. The North gave Japanese officials recently issued death certificates for eight of the individuals it admitted had been abducted, and five individuals were permitted to return to Japan. (For details on the Japanese citizens that are known to have been abducted by the North Koreans, see the Report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, paragraphs 933-962.)  On that occasion The Japanese Prime Minister apologized for the pre-World War II Japanese occupation and exploitation of Korea, and offered Japanese assistance to the North.  This exchange and assistance was consistent with actions of the United States and South Korea at that time.

A month after the first Koizumi-Kim summit, five Japanese abductees were permitted to return to Japan for a “visit,” but North Korea made clear the abductees were expected to return.  In fact, five children of two Japanese couples who returned were required to remain in the North.  The “visitors” chose to remain in Japan and did not return to North Korea, and Japanese popular sentiment completely supported their decision.  The children who had remained in Japan were eventually permitted to rejoin their parents in Japan over two years later following the second Koizumi visit to Pyongyang.

The meeting in Tokyo on June 16 commemorating the 19th anniversary of the first Koizumi visit to Pyongyang was a major event.  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe participated, expressing regret that Japan has been unable to bring all those individuals abducted by North Korea back to their homeland and secure an honest accounting of all those who were kidnapped.  The eighty-one year old brother of one of the abductees, who is also leader of a group of abductee families, urged additional effort because of the age of the victims and their family members.  The event was given wide media coverage in Japan.

The Scope of the Abductee Issue

The time period when North Korea abducted Japanese citizens was about 1977 through about 1983.  Subsequently, the Japanese government identified 17 of its citizens as definitely having been abducted by North Korea.  In 2002, the North admitted it had abducted 13 of the 17 individuals, but said that 8 of these had died.  The 5 individuals still living returned to Japan following the 2002 summit in Pyongyang.  The North Koreans, however, have been unwilling to discuss and resolve this issue with the Japanese since the initial brief discussion on the issue in 2002 and 2004.

The Japanese government has a list of some 880 individuals who might have been abducted by North Korea during that same time period.  Since the North has been uncooperative, however, it has been difficult for Japanese officials to confirm whether these persons were indeed abducted by North Korea.  When individuals disappear without a trace, it is easy simply to place them on the list of individuals abducted by North Korea.  Periodically, however, some of these possible abductees reappear without ever having been kidnapped by North Korea and with alternative histories for their disappearance.

A few days before the recent commemorative rally, Kaoru Hasuiki, one of the abductees who returned to Japan from North Korea with his wife in 2002, told the Washington Post and  Deutsche Welle how he and his fiancé were abducted and what happened to them in North Korea.  The engaged young couple were walking along a beach near their homes in Western Japan and sat together to watch the sunset.  In the darkness, North Korean special operations thugs overpowered them there on the beach and took them to a waiting boat which transported them to North Korea.

Mr. Hasuiki gave a description of his and his wife’s experiences in North Korea, which gives some indication of why this dreadful policy was followed by the North.  The abductions were initially carried out in an effort to indoctrinate the abductees to return to Japan as spies for North Korea.  Following the escape of two “trained” abductees in Europe, however, the North abandoned the effort to indoctrinate abductees as spies.  Hasuiki and his wife were then forced to teach Japanese language and customs to help North Korean espionage agents blend in and function as Japanese.  That effort, too, was eventually abandoned.  Mr. Hasuiki reported that he and his wife spent the last years of their two-and-a-half decades of captivity doing translations from Japanese.

The Role of Abductions in North Korea-Japan Relations

The question of Japanese abductions has been a critical issue in relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang.  Japan has repeatedly called for additional information and full accountability for the specific 17 abductees that it has identified, as well as information North Korea may have on the other missing Japanese whose fate is unknown.  This is an issue that the government raises publicly and privately with North Korea at every opportunity.  The issue always receives high level government attention.  The Japanese government has a Minister in Charge of the Abduction Issue, and the Headquarters for the Abduction Issue is a special cabinet committee chaired by the Prime Minister with the Minister in Charge of the Abduction Issue, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, and the Foreign Minister serving as vice chairs.

This official attention to abductions reflects the popular Japanese interest in the issue.  When I visited Japan as the U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights, I received enormous press attention when I met with the Minister in Charge of the Abduction Issue or with family members of the abductees.  When I met with the Foreign Minister or other senior Japanese government officials, there was far less media interest and attention.  This is clearly an issue of great importance to the Japanese people, and as a result it gets considerable attention and focus in any effort to deal with North Korea.

Few signs have appeared recently to indicate that North Korea is interested in improving its relationship with Japan, even as North–South relations and North Korea–United States relations have been boosted by a number of summits.  Though meaningful progress in relations with Pyongyang has been slim in the cases of both Seoul and Washington, the diplomatic activity has generated a good deal of attention.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shown his interest in meeting with Kim Jong-un, but the North Korean leader has not been particularly responsive to the outreach from Tokyo.  Last June there was talk in Japan of Abe visiting Pyongyang in August or the two leaders meeting privately in September at a multilateral conference in Russia.  There were press reports that Japanese and North Korean foreign ministry officials met privately during a multilateral diplomatic conference in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar.  This was six months after numerous reports of secret meetings on this issue, also in Mongolia, between senior Japanese and North Korean intelligence officials.

In May Prime Minister Abe publicly suggested a meeting without preconditions with Kim Jong-un, but the North Korean leader was not interested in a meeting with the Japanese leader.  In early June 2019 Pyongyang media, obviously acting under official direction, issued not just a “No” to negotiations with Tokyo but a “Hell, No!” including a vicious attack on Japan’s foreign minister:

“It is useless to cry out for the improvement of relations unless Japan gives up its wicked character,” the North Korean spokesperson said. “Even though there is no able man in Japan, it is pitiful that such a poor-grade being as weasel-faced [Foreign Minister Taro] Kono who always makes hare-brained and loathsome words serves as foreign minister.

“Abe tenaciously knocks the door of Pyongyang while making an advertisement as if the Japanese government’s policy for negotiation with the DPRK was changed but there is nothing changed in its hostile policy towards the DPRK,” the spokesperson said, adding that Kono had called for the tightening of sanctions on the North “at his master’s beck and call.”

The Japanese have met with the North Koreans to discuss the abductee issue on a few occasions since Koizumi’s visit to Pyongyang in 2002. These meetings have occurred when the North Koreans were willing to talk and usually when there was an interest in securing Japanese economic assistance. Little has come out of those efforts to deal with abductions, however.

United States Support for Japan on Abductions

The U.S. government has been supportive of Japanese efforts to secure the release of its abducted citizens, and U.S. diplomats have raised the issue with North Korea and discussed the topic with other governments at the request of the Japanese government.  This support began in the 1990s as efforts were made to make progress on North Korea denuclearization, and it has continued since that time.

More recently, the Japanese have received assistance from the Trump administration in urging the release of the abductees. In his first speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2017, President Trump was harshly critical of North Korea, including its human rights record. He mentioned the best-known Japanese abductee, Megumi Yokota, in a catalog of human rights abuses by the North Korean government: “We know North Korea kidnapped a sweet 13-year-old Japanese girl from a beach in her own country to enslave her as a language tutor for North Korea’s spies.” The Yokota family were surprised and pleased when Trump raised the issue. This public human rights criticism of the North by President Trump, which began in earnest with his first UN speech, continued for several months until March 2018 when Trump and Kim Jong-un agreed to meet in Singapore. From that point on, U.S. criticism of North Korea human rights has been muted.

Trump met with family members of the abductees on a visit to Japan in November 2017, and he pledged to work with Prime Minister Abe to secure their return. According to a senior official of the White House National Security Council staff, Trump raised the abduction issue in Hanoi in February of this year with Kim Jong-un. During the president’s visit to Tokyo this past May, he met a second time with families of the abductees and assured them of his support for the efforts of the Japanese government.

The abduction issue remains an important one for the Japanese people and their government. North Korea has publicly shown that it has little concern for human rights, and Pyongyang has cynically used abductions when they have seen benefit in doing so.  Thus far, there has been only limited interest in the North in seeking an improvement in relations with Tokyo.  It is clear, however, that the abduction issue is one on which Kim Jong-un will have to show progress to move forward with the Japanese.

Robert R. King is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute of America. He is former U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights.  The views expressed here are his own. 

Photo of President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Abe Shinzo meeting with Japanese abductee families from the Government of Japan on WikiMedia Commons.

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