The global pandemic caused by the onset of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 has tested governance at both the national and international levels by challenging the capacity of nations to provide effective public health solutions to protect their citizenry. The pandemic has deepened preexisting international rivalries while also creating diplomatic opportunities to promote international cooperation and public diplomacy. Rather than serving as a turning point for a new era in international relations, the pandemic and the global response appear primarily to have accelerated preexisting trends. In Northeast Asia, the pandemic has accelerated deepening rivalry between the United States and China, reinforced political paralysis between Japan and South Korea, primarily by providing a pretext for privileging domestic concerns and constituencies at the expense of international relations, and has generated heightened new foreign policy challenges resulting from deepening identity-based major power rivalries.
This chapter reviews the deepening of identity-based challenges facing Japan-South Korea relations prior to 2020, examines the conditions generated by leadership responses in both countries to the pandemic, identifies missed opportunities for pandemic-related cooperation between the two countries, and addresses challenges and opportunities facing the Japan-South Korea relationship in the context of anticipated recovery from the pandemic as well as the shifting geopolitical environment as tensions mount between China and the United States.