Japan-South Korea relations have shown significant development in the past few years, with efforts made to resolve existing issues one by one. The main reason for the positive atmosphere in the relationship is the increasing economic and military capacity of China, particularly in the region and globally, along with its allied states. Among these states, North Korea and Russia are prominent. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine War and North Korea’s increasing military activities have led Japan and South Korea, with the support of the United States (US), to seek stronger cooperation and have brought them closer together.
While the overall trend of the relationship is positive, there are also points of contention. One of the most prominent and currently seemingly distant from a resolution is the Dokdo/Takeshima Island dispute. Like some other issues, the Dokdo/Takeshima Island dispute emerged after World War II.
Despite the positive atmosphere in the relationship, it is observed that tensions persist in the aforementioned dispute. For example, on December 16, 2022, Japan issued its National Security Strategy, stating that the island belongs to Japan. In response, South Korea condemned the statement.
On March 28, 2023, following the depiction of Dokdo/Takeshima Island as belonging to South Korea in South Korean textbooks, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan issued a protest statement and summoned the South Korean Ambassador to the ministry.
In another instance, on December 23, 2022, South Korea conducted military exercises near Dokdo/Takeshima Island, which drew a reaction from Japan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan conveyed to Kim Yong Gil, the South Korean Ambassador in Tokyo, that the exercises reported to have taken place were absolutely unacceptable and deeply regrettable.
While these developments were unfolding, the positive atmosphere on the Seoul-Tokyo line did not wane, and steps were continued to be taken towards discussions and the resolution of issues. For example, during the Yoon Suk Yeol-Fumio Kishida summit held in May 2023, commitments were made to take steps towards resolving the problems.
Furthermore, on April 13, 2023, a meeting was held between South Korean Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Park Bo-gyoon and his Japanese counterpart Saito Tetsuo to discuss necessary steps for the development of tourism. During the meeting, there was an exchange of ideas on increasing bilateral tourism activities and enhancing relations.
By June 7, 2023, South Korea conducted another military exercise near Dokdo/Takeshima Island. In response, on the same date, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan summoned a senior diplomat from the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo, while the Japanese Embassy in Seoul also summoned a high-ranking Korean official to protest the incident. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan issued a statement that included the following remarks:
“Takeshima is unquestionably Japan’s natural territory, based on historical facts and international law… The military exercises by the South Korean Army are unacceptable and deeply regrettable.”
In a statement from South Korea, it was mentioned that the defense exercise in the East Sea region was conducted to fulfill South Korea’s duty to protect its region, people, and property. Additionally, in a statement from the US Department of State, emphasis was placed on the resolution of the issues, highlighting the critical importance of the trilateral relationship in terms of shared security and common interests.
In the end, the convergence of regional threat perceptions has led South Korea and Japan to seek stronger cooperation. With the support of the United States, these efforts contribute to taking steps towards resolving issues and undertaking more integrated actions against North Korea. However, it cannot be said that issues like the Dokdo/Takeshima Island dispute have been completely resolved. It is evident that these issues will not escalate into large-scale conflicts. The reconciliatory role of the United States in this context should not be overlooked.
 “South Korea Protests Japan’s Island Claim in National Security Strategy”, Reuters, www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/south-korea-protests-japans-island-claim-national-security-strategy-2022-12-16/, (Date of Accession: 16.12.2022).
 “South Korea Lodges Protest with Japan over New Textbooks’ Descriptions”, The Japan Times, www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/03/28/national/japan-south-korea-textbook-protests/, (Date of Accession: 28.03.2023).
 “Japan Protests South Korean Military Drills Near Disputed Isles”, Kyodo News, english.kyodonews.net/news/2022/12/ef5c7a24d4e0-japan-protests-s-korean-military-drills-near-disputed-isles.html, (Date of Accession: 23.12.2022).
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 Chae Yun-hwan, “(LEAD) S. Korea Held Regular Defense Drills Around Dokdo Last Month”, Yonhab News Agency, en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20230707002551325, (Date of Accession: 07.07.2023).
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