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Japan-South Korea Rapprochement in the Context of Yoon-Kishida Meeting

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Japan-South Korea relations, which have had up-and-down relations since the past, have recently begun to stabilize. In particular, the decision taken by Seoul and Tokyo on March 6, 2023 on wartime forced labor reparations caused some reactions in the South Korean people but was interpreted by many experts and commentators as the beginning of steps to be taken in order to have mutually stable and positive relations. Before discussing the bilateral summit and relations that took place after this decision, it is necessary to mention the economic situation in order to better understand the issue.

In the context of Japan-South Korea trade, during 2022, Japan exported $54 billion[1] and imported $33.5 billion[2] to South Korea. Considering that his trade took place in 2019 when Japan’s additional controls[3] on export of fluorinated polyimides, resistors and hydrogen fluoride used in production of smartphone displays and chips and that the item containing these products amounted to 7.8 billion dollars[4] in Japan’s exports to South Korea, this is a good example  in terms of understanding the potential in trade relations.

Considering that these audits were carried out after negotiations with the Seoul administration on wartime forced labor compensation in 2019, the impact of this situation on trade relations between the parties will be better understood.

Wartime compensation for forced labor has long emerged as one of the main problems in the relations of the two countries due to the difficulty of its solution. Although a solution was sometimes approached, this problem continued until the last compromise was reached. In order to resolve the issue and establish good relations, the Yoon administration agreed with Japan on March 6, 2023 to compensate South Korea for the damages of the victims before the meeting held on March 16, 2023.[5]

The summit of heads of state, which took place on 16 March 2023, is important in many issues and especially in security and intelligence issues. As previously reported, South Korea suspended the agreement on intelligence-sharing with Japan due to additional checks on substances used in high-tech production, which were eased on the eve of the talks, as well as a 2019 breakup over wartime forced labor reparations. Therefore, after Japan lifted the controls, South Korea put the agreement into force again.[6]

Like the North Korean threat, both South Korea’s and Japan’s perception of common security has been instrumental in their search for reconciliation. Because it is known that Pyongyang’s actions are seen as a threat by both South Korea and Japan. As a matter of fact, North Korea conducted missile tests both during the joint US-South Korean exercises[7] on March 13, 2023 and a few hours before this bilateral summit took place.[8]

In addition to North Korea, China’s increasing influence in the region in the context of the current conjuncture has accelerated the search for cooperation on the Seoul-Tokyo line. It is known that Japan’s attitude towards China is negative. As a matter of fact, Koichi Hagiuda, one of the senior officials in Japan’s ruling party, who updated his defense strategy in 2022, visited Taiwan on December 11, 2022. During the visit, Hagiuda stated that the increase in China’s military spending as well as North Korea’s missile tests were effective in increasing Japan’s defense budget.[9]

From South Korea’s point of view, it can be said that Seoul acts with the slogan “Korea First!” and tries to distance itself from the US-China rivalry as much as possible. However, both the rapid increase in China’s military capabilities and Beijing’s close relations with Pyongyong may have led to South Korea’s rapprochement with Japan.

As a result, South Korea and Japan, although they had bad relations in the past, are getting closer due to common security concerns. This will can be interpreted as a reflection of both North Korea’s recent increasing military actions and China’s rise. In the following period, there is a possibility that the South Korea-Japan rapprochement and the AUKUS alliance, whose activity in the region is increasing, will strengthen the U.S.’s hand in its competition with China.


[1] “Japan Exports to South Korea”, Trading Economics, tradingeconomics.com/japan/exports/south-korea, (Date of Accession: 15.03.2023).

[2] Japan Imports from South Korea, Trading Economics, tradingeconomics.com/japan/imports/south-korea#:~:text=Japan%20Imports%20from%20South%20Korea%20was%20US%2433.58%20Billion%20during,COMTRADE%20database%20on%20international%20trade., (Date of Accession: 15.03.2023).

[3]“Japan, South Korea to work to normalize chip-making material trade”, Kyodo News, english.kyodonews.net/news/2023/03/899b6facd49f-update1-japan-s-korea-to-work-to-normalize-chip-making-material-trade.html, (Date of Accession: 06.03.2023).

[4] Ibid.

[5] “South Korea to Compensate victims of Japan’s Wartime Forced Labour”, BBC, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-64858944, (Date of Accession: 06.03.2023).

[6] Jesse Johnson, “South Korea Begins Process to Normalize GSOMIA intel Pact with Japan”, The Japan Times, www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/03/18/national/south-korea-japan-gsomia-intelligence-sharing-normalize/, (Date of Accession: 18.03.2023).

[7]“North Korea Launches Submarine Missiles, Condemns US-South Korea Drills”, VoA, www.voanews.com/a/seoul-north-korea-conducts-submarine-launched-missile-test/7001464.html, (Date of Accession: 12.03.2023).

[8]“North Korea Launches ICBM Ahead of South Korea-Japan Summit”, Aljazeera, www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/3/16/north-korea-launches-missile-ahead-of-south-korea-japan-summit, (Date of Accession: 16.03.2023).

[9] “Japan MP in Taiwan Says ‘China threat’ Needs More Military Spending”, Pars Today, parstoday.com/en/news/world-i190678-japan_mp_in_taiwan_says_china_threat’_needs_more_military_spending, (Date of Accession:11.12.2022).

Elcan TOKMAK
Elcan TOKMAK
Elcan TOKMAK, 2022 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nden mezun olmuştur. Eylül-Aralık 2022 tarihleri arasında ANKASAM bünyesinde Kariyer Staj Programı'nı tamamlayan Tokmak, Temmuz 2023 tarihinden itibaren ANKASAM Asya-Pasifik Araştırma Asistanı olarak çalışmalarını sürdürmektedir. Şu anda Hacettepe Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nde Yüksek Lisans eğitimine devam eden Tokmak'ın ilgi alanları Çin-Japonya-Kore ilişkileri ve Çin Dış Politikası'dır. Tokmak; profesyonel düzeyde İngilizce, orta derecede Çince ve başlangıç düzeyinde Korece bilmektedir.