Asan Plenum


Panel: Challenges for the ROK-US Alliance (Regency Room)
Date/Time: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 / 15:30-16:45
Talking Points for: Victor Cha, Center for Strategic and International Studies

One challenge for the ROK-US Alliance is the “Korea-Japan cold war.” There is a wide-perception gap and a “tone-deafness” in the relations where the pitch cannot be restored in the relationship no matter what either side does.

– On the Japanese side:
Shinzo Abe’s CSIS speech in February 2013, where he was asked how he will improve relations with Seoul. He said he has a forward looking view, and then cited how his grandfather Kishi Nobusuke was good friends with Park Chung-hee
This was not received well in Korea ? even though he was trying to personalize his own experience. “Abe managed to contextualize an already complex relationship within the even more complex domestic politics of South Korea.”

-On the Korean side:
Example of an academic conference a designed to discuss Japan-Korea relations. in Seoul with live satellite feed from Dokdo greeting the participants
While Americans chuckled at the display of nationalism the Japanese walked silently and later sparked a discussion

-Cold War
In the past, it was okay for third parties like the US to encourage improving Seoul-Tokyo relations
But these days the reactions are “fierce and it is laced with an acute sense of self-righteousness.”

What has Abe done since taking office?
-Is back and is focused on economic recovery “Abenomics”
-Not make Takeshima Day a national holiday
-Not bringing the dispute for international arbitration
-Not revising the Kono Statement
Hence, Tokyo feels “the ball is now in Seoul’s court to reciprocate.”

Reactions from Korea
-Believed it has reciprocated in the past, only to see its efforts hurt by the textbook controversy, Yasakuni shrine, and Japanese politicians statements
-Seoul feels it is both a critical regional player and a global player, therefore is does not tolerate what it perceives as demeaning statements from Tokyo.
Two dangers

1. “North Korea’s threats and provocations pose real security concerns” for Japan/Korea
The lack of cooperation ? at least until the Japanese upper house elections in July ? makes NO SENSE.
Need better security cooperation in the face of North Korean provocations
2. Current geopolitics situation can go downward
New gov’ts want new policies
Park/Abe wants to improve relations with Obama, but have to also manage relations with Xi.

What is the potential consequence?
-As Mike Green has argued, it can “have the unintended effect of worsening Seoul-Tokyo relations.”
-Both Seoul/Tokyo might want to improve relations with Beijing from distancing each other, but this CAN be better accomplish if there was a stronger Bilateral ROK-Japan relations in the first place.