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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.

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.”

There is too much history
here. Maybe it’s time for their longtime benefactor to step
away.

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, residents of South Korea have better historical
reason to be angry. Japanese traditionally viewed Koreans as
inferior, having seized control of their peninsula after defeating
China in 1895 and Russia in 1905. Five years later, Tokyo formally
colonized the Korean Peninsula, during which it attempted to
suppress Korean culture, even pressing Koreans to change their
names and religion. The first presidents of South and North Korea,
political activist Syngman Rhee and military guerrilla Kim Il-sung,
respectively, worked for independence.

I first visited South Korea …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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