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Finding an Advocate: The Role of the Private Sector in Korea-Japan Relations
Region: Asia
Theme: Economics
Location: Japan
Published June 25, 2019
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Tensions between South Korea and Japan are frustratingly persistent. Despite the shared interests of both countries, such as economic development in Southeast Asia, and keeping a robust alliance with the United States, South Korea and Japan maintain a bellicose relationship because of unresolved historical misunderstandings and territorial disputes. Inconsistent diplomatic policies and lack of strong leaders have made it difficult to prevent unnecessary hostility between South Korea and Japan. Fear of losing support has prevented politicians from pursuing friendly policies towards each other. Businesspeople, too, have been reluctant to pursue friendly policies towards each other, because of preconceived risks of being targeted for backlash. An examination of economic data shows these risks are minimal, and political tensions do not affect business or consumer behavior. Current efforts from both Korean and Japanese business organizations to improve cooperation include student exchange programs, recruitment processes, and public diplomacy. We urge the business community to advocate more to improve bilateral relations. Economic relations alone are insufficient to handle the task of improving a difficult relationship; there is also a need for leadership. In South Korea-Japan relations, the business community should step in and provide that role.

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