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The Peninsula

Commitment to Improving Seoul-Tokyo Relations

Published April 13, 2021
Author: Korea View

What Happened

  • On April 1, Seoul and Tokyo met to discuss historical issues, future bilateral meetings, and improving trilateral relations.
  • The meeting came just after Japan’s Ministry of Education approved 30 high school social studies and history textbooks that showed the Dokdo islets as part of Japanese territory.
  • Although South Korea called for the books to be corrected and for the Japanese government to recognize its occupation-era crimes, ROK officials still met with Japanese counterparts and remain committed to future meetings.

Implications: In its engagements with Japan, South Korea is placing distance between tensions arising from legacy issues and its efforts to deepen cooperation on defense and diplomacy. This is in line with Moon Jae-in’s 2021 Independence Movement Day speech, which called for the past to be remembered but not hold the country back from making progress. In accordance with this guideline, Seoul’s Director-General for Asian and Pacific Affairs and his Japanese counterpart met to discuss historical disputes and trilateral cooperation. Additionally, Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s new foreign minister, said he would be willing to meet with his Japanese counterpart. These meetings are taking place even as many legacy issues remain unaddressed and new challenges arise over Japan’s claims on Dokdo islets in its textbooks.

Context: Historical issues have frequently spilled over into the economic and military relations of South Korea and Japan. In 2019, tensions rose as Japan removed South Korea from an export whitelist in response to a South Korean court ruling that called for Japanese companies to compensate victims of forced labor during World War II. South Korea then threatened to pull out of the military information-sharing agreement between the United States, Japan, and South Korea. Ownership of the Dokdo islets has also been a point of contention between Japan and South Korea since the end of World War II.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Melissa Cho and Alexandra Langford. Creative Commons image from Flickr account of the hkinuthia.

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