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Washington cannot force Japan and South Korea together

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Washington cannot force Japan and South Korea together – Seoul–Tokyo relations under Japan’s new prime minister Fumio Kishida are off to a less-than-promising start. This is no doubt frustrating for the United States, eager to foster reconciliation between two major Indo-Pacific partners.

Yet given the discord extends into factors beyond Washington’s control, it is possible that US efforts to induce reconciliation may end up backfiring.

Washington cannot force Japan and South Korea together
Washington cannot force Japan and South Korea together

It is not that US attempts at bridging the rift between Japan and South Korea are bad in and of themselves. There are a variety of factors that, given the way Washington views its alliances with the two in a broader strategic context, may necessitate the United States taking a more hands-off approach to the Japan–South Korea diplomatic row.

To make matters worse, immediately following Kishida’s belated call with Moon, Kishida sent an offering to Yasukuni Shrine, an act which drew lament from South Korea’s foreign ministry. Although his was not an in-person visit, the message is unmistakably clear — repairing ties with Seoul is not among Tokyo’s major priorities.

A consistent theme in the US approach to the Japan–South Korea row is to conduct diplomacy with Seoul and Tokyo behind closed doors so as not to appear as favouring one over the other. Joe Biden’s nominee for ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emmanuel, favours maintaining quiet efforts aimed at repairing Japan–South Korea ties. Emmanuel has attempted to strike a note of understanding on the extent that historic issues factor into Seoul–Tokyo relations, while remaining firm on Washington’s expressed interest in discouraging the past negatively affecting cooperation today.

Washington’s focus, therefore, should be on leveraging its shared security interests with Japan and South Korea as much as possible while allowing Seoul and Tokyo enough space to work out differences over historic issues in their own time and on their own terms.

If, however, the United States insists on trying to coax Seoul and Tokyo into an improved bilateral relationship on an artificial timeline, it does so at the risk that it could alienate one if not both allies as well as itself by being too overbearing.

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Read more about Washington cannot force Japan and South Korea together at https://nationalinterest.org/blog/korea-watch/why-can%E2%80%99t-japanese-and-koreans-get-along-197290

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