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South Korea-Japan Rapprochement: Washington-Seoul-Tokyo Alliance

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The Second World War inflicted irreparable wounds in the history of all nations participating in the war. The biggest reason for this is the continuation of colonialism that started with geographical discoveries. The situation in question is actually an indication of the fact that mercantilist and realist views assumed a dominant role in the state administrations of the period after the failure of the League of Nations. As a matter of fact, this process has also caused deep wounds in South Korea-Japan relations. These wounds play a key role in the relations between the parties, although it has been a long time. However, the South Korea-Japan duo, even though they have a bad history in terms of bilateral relations, started to develop their relations due to the reshaped geopolitical environment.

As it is known, because of North Korea’s nuclear activities and China’s developing and deepening relations with Russia, waters are warming in the Pacific. North Korea has been conducting nuclear tests in the region for a long time and ignoring all the agreements it has ratified in the past. Ultimately, the Pyongyang administration declared herself a nuclear power on September 9, 2022. Moreover, with this law, North Korean President Kim Jong Un also granted his country the authority to preemptive strike by nuclear weapons. Of course, this situation seriously threatens the security and stability of the region.

On the other hand, while China is attentive to keep its relations with Russia which has been fighting in Ukraine since February 2022 at a certain level, she is taking steps that make the regional security environment fragile by increasing the exercises she carries out around Taiwan. The United States, first by the visit of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, then by the law that increased its support for Taiwan both economically and militarily, and finally by the US President Joe Biden’s statement of “If there is an attack on Taiwan, we will defend Taiwan”, leaved the principle of strategic uncertainty and openly defend Taiwan. This has accelerated the escalation of tensions.

Rapprochement of Japan and South Korea

As it is noted above, Japan and South Korea have long been two geographically close but mentally distant countries. However, thanks to some recent developments, the two countries are giving signals of convergence. For example, the parties decided to continue their negotiations on the labor compensation of the workers who were forced to work during the Second World War.[1] Prior to this, the Foreign Ministers of Japan and South Korea met on the sidelines of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and discussed various issues.

During these talks, it was emphasized that historical issues should be resolved and both bilateral relations and trilateral relations with the US should be developed.[2] Considering that the changing geopolitical conditions were also emphasized in the meetings, it can be said that the rapprochement between South Korea and Japan did not occur only to end the problems between the societies.

In fact, the changing geopolitical environment is primarily related to North Korea and its nuclear activities. On the other hand, it can be stated that South Korea and Japan focus on China, which supports and protects North Korea, rather than North Korea. As a matter of fact, according to the news reflected in the press on September 21, 2022, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in his reply to the letter sent by Chinese President Xi Jinping, stated that China-North Korea relations would be developed against enemy forces. In addition, considering that China does not satisfactorily oppose North Korea’s nuclear law, it can be argued that although Beijing states that it opposes Pyongyang’s reaching the nuclear power level, she is warmly welcomed to these developments which can ensure advantage in the region.

In addition, the analyzes of some Chinese experts supporting this view are also noteworthy.[3] As can be understood from all these events, although the rapprochement between Japan and South Korea in the region is seen only as a result of the societies’ desire to get rid of the protracted problems, it can be said that the efforts of Seoul and Tokyo to strengthen their own positions against Beijing lie behind the rapprochement.

The US-South Korea-Japan Alliance

While the world agenda is busy with the Russia-Ukraine War, events that increase the tension in the Asia-Pacific region continue to occur. In the process following the escalation of the Taiwan Issue, North Korea announced that it would not give up nuclear power and by going further announced that she recognized the right of preemptive nuclear strike for herself. Of course, the fact that the regional agenda is so tense has caused the US-Japan-South Korea trio to be on the alert.

In this context, while Japan and South Korea are trying to solve their historical problems; Washington and Seoul are also discussing the exclusion of South Korean electric vehicle manufacturers from incentives under the new US anti-inflation law.[4]

While all these developments are taking place, the US is deploying THAAD Missile Defense Systems to South Korea. The first missile defense systems were deployed in 2017 when South Korea wanted to defend itself more effectively against North Korea-based nuclear threats. While South Korea added a new one to the ongoing deployments, China was disturbed by this situation. Therefore, on September 16, 2022, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Li Zhanshu, during his three-day visit to South Korea, emphasized that sensitive issues should be handled appropriately and that it is important to find a reasonable solution to the issue of THAAD Systems.[5]

In the light of the events, the developing relations of the US and South Korea are disturbing China. The continued deployment of THAAD Defense Systems to South Korea has created a security dilemma for the Beijing administration. Because although Seoul states that these systems are against Pyongyang-based threats, China thinks that these systems are targeting herself.

On the other hand, the US, Japan and South Korea trio have been holding talks for a long time against the increasing threat of North Korea. These talks have intensified with the impact of North Korea’s increasing nuclear capability and its new nuclear law. In this context, although the talks seem to be only against Pyongyang at first glance, Beijing’s being the main ally of this actor and continuing all kinds of support,[6] brought along discussions that the talks also targeted China.

As a result, South Korea-Japan-US cooperation is developing and deepening against the China-North Korea alliance in the region. The Washington administration is in the desire to limit North Korea and China by getting closer to Japan and South Korea. As a matter of fact, the visit of the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to South Korea [7] can be interpreted as a step in this direction. Moreover, the US’s declaration that it will protect Taiwan against a possible Chinese attack and her want of strengthening regional military cooperations such as QUAD and AUKUS indicate that the containment policy against China is intended to be expanded.


[1] “Japan S. Korea Agree to Seek Early Resolution of Wartime Labor Issue”, Japan Today, japantoday.com/category/politics/japan-s.-korea-agree-to-seek-early-resolution-of-wartime-labor-issue, (Date of Accession: 21.09.2022).

[2] Jo He-rim, “Foreign Ministers of South Korea, Japan Vow ‘Sincere Efforts To Resolve Historic Disputes”, The Korea Herald, www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20220920000650, (Date of Accession: 12.09. 2022).

[3] Kawala Xie, “China’s Reaction to North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons First-Use Law Tipped to be Muted”, South China Morning Post, www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3192253/chinas-reaction-north-koreas-nuclear-weapons-first-use-law, (Date of Accession: 21.09.2022).

[4] Hyonhee Shin, “S. Korea’s Yoon Asks Biden to Resolve Concerns over EV Subsidy Rules”, Reuters, www.reuters.com/technology/us-skorea-exchange-frank-views-vehicle-credits-network-fees-2022-09-22/, (Date of Accession: 22.09.2022).

[5] Zhang Han, “South Korea Proceeds with THAAD to Enhance Allience With US Risk China Ties”, Global Times, www.globaltimes.cn/page/202209/1275609.shtml, (Date of Accession: 22.09.2022).

[6] Xie, a.g.m.

[7] Josh Smith, “U.S. Air Craft Carrier To Visit South Korea For The First Time Since 2018”, Reuters, www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-aircraft-carrier-visit-skorea-first-time-since-2018-2022-09-19/, (Date of Accession: 22.09.2022).

Elcan TOKMAK
Elcan Tokmak, 2022 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Halihazırda ANKASAM bünyesindeki stajına devam eden Tokmak; Çin, Kore ve Japonya üzerine çalışmalar yapmaktadır. Tokmak, ileri düzeyde İngilizce, orta seviyede Çince ve başlangıç düzeyinde Korece bilmektedir.