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IFANS PERSPECTIVES Turning Point in Korea-Japan Relations and Challenges in Korea’s Diplomacy with Japan JO Yanghyeon Upload Date 2024-01-23 Hits 401
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1. Structural Aspects of Conflict between Korea and Japan in the 2010s 
2. Inauguration of the Yoon Suk Yeol Administration and Turning Point in Korea-Japan Relations
3. Diplomatic Approach of the Yoon Suk Yeol Administration Toward Japan 
4. Achievements of Korea’s Diplomacy with Japan
5. Challenges in Korea's Diplomacy with Japan


1. Structural Aspects of Conflict between Korea and Japan in the 2010s 


After the normalization of diplomatic relations in 1965, the relationship between Korea and Japan experienced several ups and downs, but in the 2010s, it entered a deep and prolonged period of confrontation, described as the “worst Korea-Japan relations.” During this period, the historical disputes over the issues of the former Japanese military comfort women and forced labor (mobilization) became a persistent source of historical conflict between Korea and Japan, which expanded into various fields including economy and security. For 10 years from 2012 to 2022, there were no individual visits nor summit meetings between the leaders of the two countries. Therefore, the 2010s can be described as a “lost decade” in Korea-Japan relations.
Following the ruling by Korea’s Constitutional Court regarding the comfort women issue in August 2011, historical matters became a primary focus in the Lee Myung-bak administration's diplomacy with Japan. The following year, in August, President Lee's visit to Dokdo became a turning point, leading Korea-Japan relations into a confrontational phase. During the Park Geun-hye administration, the two countries engaged in a dispute for nearly three years over the comfort women issue. However, in December 2015, an agreement was reached to resolve the comfort women issue and in November of the following year, the two nations signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), indicating a temporary improvement in their relationship. Despite these efforts, the installation of a comfort woman statue in Busan and impeachment crisis surrounding President Park prevented the formation of a stable foundation in Korea-Japan cooperation. During the Moon Jae-in administration, historical conflicts escalated due to the announcement of the verification results concerning the comfort women agreement at the end of 2017, Supreme Court ruling in October of the following year confirming the compensation responsibility and enforcement of liquidation of Japanese corporate assets for forced labor mobilization, and dissolution of the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation in November. Conflicts expanded across multiple fronts with the radar incident in December, Japanese government's announcement in July 2019 regarding export restrictions against Korea on three materials crucial for semiconductor and display production, followed by Korea's decision to file a complaint against Japan at the World Trade Organization (WTO), and declaration of refusal to extend GSOMIA. 
Compared to the 20 years after the end of the Cold War, Korea-Japan relations in the 2010s exhibited characteristics such as persistent historical conflicts, increased influence of judicial rulings in Korea’s diplomacy with Japan, and erosion of the principle of separating politics and economics due to the comprehensive escalation of conflicts between both countries. For the 20 years after the end of the Cold War (from the Kim Young-sam administration to the Lee Myung-bak administration), Korea-Japan relations experienced fluctuations due to historical issues, repeating a cycle of “warm up and cool down” (cooperation and confrontation). However, in the 2010s, despite the change in Korea's leadership with the inauguration of the Park Geun-hye and Moon Jae-in administrations, this did not serve as a catalyst for improving relations with Japan (disappearance of the warm up). The Constitutional Court and Supreme Court in Korea urged the active role of the Korean government in remedying the comfort women and forced labor mobilization victims as well as issued rulings acknowledging the responsibility for compensation of the Japanese government and companies. These rulings contrasted with the Korean government’s stance on the claims against Japan after the normalization of ROK-Japan diplomatic relations in 1965, significantly influencing the policy direction of Korea’s diplomacy with Japan. The landscape where historical issues shaped the dynamics of Korea-Japan relations became distinctly clear. During the early Park Geun-hye administration, Korea requested Japan's sincere actions regarding the comfort women issue while during the Moon Jae-in administration, the Japanese government urged Korea to present solutions regarding the forced labor mobilization issue, all of which contributed to the cooling of Korea-Japan relations. 
The distinct escalation in the confrontational dynamics between Korea and Japan can be attributed not only to historical issues but also to a disparity in threat perceptions between the two nations. The persistent conflicts between Korea and Japan have resulted from the simultaneous increase in the influence of domestic politics on diplomacy with Japan and interplay of domestic politics with the international environment. Against the backdrop of democratization in Korean society and a conservative shift in Japanese politics, historical issues have gained prominence in the Korea-Japan relationship. As a result, Korea-Japan relations have become more entangled in domestic politics, highlighting a confrontation between Korea's victim-centered approach and Japan's historical revisionism. Consequently, the discretion of diplomatic authorities has been constrained. After the end of the Cold War, a sense of security solidarity between Korea and Japan has relaxed. And against the backdrop of shifting power balances in East Asia, differences in positions between Korea and Japan in terms of foreign strategies, including threat perceptions regarding China and North Korea and restructuring of alliances with the U.S., have acted as constraints on Korea-Japan cooperation.



* Attached File #Relations #Cooperation #Japan #ROKJapan #ROKUSJapan
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