Introduction | Rethinking the South Korea-Japan Values Gap


What equilibrium means to geopolitical balance of power maneuvering, equality means to national identity resentments over gaps perceived as unjust. When South Korea gained favor as the “linchpin” of U.S. alliances, Japan was not satisfied until it was designated the “cornerstone” of the alliance system. In the “history wars” of 2014-15, Japanese and South Koreans vied for U.S. government and public opinion favor to their interpretation of historical consciousness issues. Finally, in response to U.S. pressure to calm tensions between the two over history themes, first one and then the other made concessions, as triangular aspects of identity—associated with U.S. global leadership—took priority. Yet, a sharp values gap between Japan and South Korea remains and could be reactivated, as identity concerns related to China and North Korea hover in the background for them.


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