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South Korea and Japan: a Mutual Loathing the U.S. Can’t Fix

September 5, 2019 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

In Washington, there is only one foreign policy position: America must do more. More of what doesn’t much matter. Just more. More money. More troops. More pressure. More sanctions. More wars.

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Such has been the reaction to the unseemly squabble between the Republic of Korea and Japan. Diplomatic hostilities have exploded, with Washington’s two closest allies in East Asia sanctioning each other. Most recently, Seoul has said it plans to withdraw from a bilateral intelligence sharing pact, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which comes up for renewal in November.

The Trump administration has criticized both sides, urging them to “get along.” Alas, these efforts have gone nowhere. So now Washington is being blamed. Complains Slate’s Fred Kaplan, “no U.S. official, certainly not Donald Trump, has intervened to hold [Tokyo and Seoul] together.” Stanford’s Daniel Sneider tells Kaplan that “what’s happening is a consequence of the vacuum of leadership in Washington.”

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But this is no small brush fire that anyone can put out. In 1965, Japan and South Korea normalized relations. Today, Tokyo argues that the resulting agreement barred private claims growing out of the occupation, in this instance, forced laborers used by Japanese companies. (A separate yet equally emotional issue involves the “comfort women” forced into prostitution by the Imperial Japanese Army.)

South Korean judges have long blocked such cases, but the ROK’s Constitutional Court recently reversed course. That could result in large damage awards against Japanese concerns, perhaps totaling in excess of $20 billion. (As part of the 1965 process, Tokyo provided aid worth roughly $8 billion in today’s dollars.) Japan’s government, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, responded with the economic equivalent of a nuclear weapon: trade restrictions that threatened large South Korean firms.

Both nations are acting irresponsibly. Both are market-friendly democracies and American allies potentially threatened by North Korea and China. They should work together to promote regional stability and security. Instead they are treating each other as enemies. The basic problem is that Japanese and Koreans are highly nationalistic. And nationalists don’t always like each other.

In this case, …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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