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South Korea and Japan
Published September 3, 2013
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The relationship between South Korea and Japan resembles a seesaw or a pendulum. Ups and downs are normal. The Lee Myong-bak administration is no exception, although many expected a different path from the previous administration. Lee showed an extraordinary degree of restraint in Japan-related issues until the summer of 2012. He may be the only Korean president who did not mention Japan critically in his speeches on the two major Japanassociated Korean holidays, Independence Movement Day and Liberation Day. Also during his tenure, South Korea and Japan discussed the possibility of concluding a GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement), exemplifying upgraded ties between the two countries by discussing security cooperation in a newly evolving regional context with third parties in mind. However, after Lee visited Dokdo on August 10, 2012, ties rapidly deteriorated. The two countries faced an unprecedented challenge in navigating through the popular uproar. Around October, the turbulent tide stabilized, but ties never returned to the “good old days.” The potential exists for another eruption of emotional conflict. With a new president, Park Geun-hye, elected to replace Lee as the standard bearer of the conservatives, just days after a general election brought Abe Shinzo to the post of prime minister after more than three years when the LDP had remained in the opposition, the bilateral relationship is being tested in 2013 under new leadership.

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