December 30, 2015


A new era in South Korean-Japanese relations begins (Michael Auslin, 12/30/15, AEI)

The news out of Tokyo and Seoul on the eve of the New Year was nothing short of blockbuster. After decades of dispute, recrimination, and ill will, Asia's two most powerful democracies agreed to resolve one of the bitterest lingering issues from World War II. In forthrightly offering "his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds," Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe appears to have succeeded in bringing diplomatic closure to the issue of South Korea's "comfort women" -- captives forced to have sex with Japanese servicemen. [...]

 For Abe, the agreement was as much about the future as it was about the past. Reiterating thoughts from his address before the U.S. Congress earlier this year, Abe made clear that he did not want "our children, grandchildren, and their offspring to keep apologizing" for a history from the previous century. Yet what's just as important, as Japanese officials in Washington told me, is that Japan and South Korea face a common set of regional challenges, including the North Korean nuclear threat and an increasingly assertive China, and need to work together to respond to them. The question is whether South Korea, which has deepened relations with China under Park, also sees the benefit of closer ties with Japan.

Seoul and Tokyo are Washington's closest allies in the Indo-Pacific region, and the freeze in their relations in recent years has complicated efforts to get the three countries working more closely on security issues. Yet their interests in preserving freedom of maritime and aerial navigation, the desire to contain if not denuclearize North Korea, and the need to continue engaging Beijing to encourage more cooperative behavior create a host of common issues on which Japan and South Korea can work together. [...]

As Asia's two strongest and most developed democracies, Japan and South Korea can play a major role in reshaping the region's politics. Their common embrace of liberal values, rule of law, freedom of the press, and the like can form a new center of gravity in Asia. With enough trust and with growing experience, they can work together with their American ally to uphold the rules-based order in Asia that has provided security and stability for decades. They can also help encourage Asia's other democracies, such as newly liberalizing Myanmar, and encourage those that have turned away from democracy, like Thailand, to return to liberal principles.

Posted by at December 30, 2015 5:30 PM