The rivalry between China and the United States (US) is playing a significant role in the trajectory towards a multipolar world order. On one hand, China, being one of the major players in the global economy, while on the other hand, the US and the Western world. Under these circumstances, both poles are striving to resolve issues between friendly nations and to improve their ability to act more cohesively.
An excellent example of the US’s current situation is the Japan-South Korea relationship, which has been strained due to issues dating back to the Japanese colonial period. However, the emergence of the US-China competition and their shared concerns regarding China and North Korea have brought these two nations closer, allowing them to seek solutions to their problems. In this regard, the measures[i] taken by both South Korea and Japan towards resolving their historical issues, as well as their mutual inclusion in each other’s list of trustworthy[ii] trade partners, are noteworthy developments.
The convergence of these two nations extends beyond the political sphere, encompassing varied fields, primarily in the realm of economics. Notably, tourism emerges as a key beneficiary of this rapprochement. As an instance, in 2022, approximately 1.01 million [iii]Korean tourists visited Japan, which has, according to data released on June 31, 2023, surged to over 3 million[iv]. In contrast, the number of Japanese tourists visiting South Korea has only slightly increased, rising from 300,000[v] to 860,000[vi].
While the aforementioned convergence may suggest resolution of all issues, unresolved border disputes and the Fukushima Nuclear Plant issue continue to persist. These matters, including the Dokdo/Takeshima Island dispute, endure despite occasional minor tensions in bilateral relations. Nevertheless, they are unlikely to result in any significant negative shift in the course of relations.Furthermore, the apprehension regarding the discharge of water from the Fukushima Nuclear Plant into the ocean has emerged as a source of concern not only for South Korea but also for other neighboring states. Nevertheless, it would be unrealistic to assert that this issue could significantly alter the trajectory of bilateral relations.
While the bilateral relations between Japan and South Korea appear to be positive, the growing rivalry between the United States and China is becoming increasingly palpable with each passing day. In this context, both the US and China have resorted to direct attacks against each other, with semiconductors, a crucial component of global technological tools, being among the items affected by this situation. Indeed, in response to US sanctions, China opted to impose its own sanctions on the US semiconductor manufacturer Micron on May 22, 2023, citing concerns over the potential threat posed by the chips produced by the company to its national security[vii]. This situation has placed South Korea, which has strong commercial ties with China, in a challenging position.
The trilateral meetings held within the Seoul-Tokyo-Washington axis bear significant importance in the competition mentioned earlier. The upcoming meeting, scheduled for August 18, 2023, at Camp David, between Japan, South Korea, and the US holds the potential for positive outcomes for the US[viii]. The US aims to play an active role in resolving issues within the bloc to enhance its global prestige and foster further development of intra-bloc relationships. In light of China’s perspective, the US, South Korea, and Japan’s efforts to establish a mini military structure in the North Pacific similar to NATO[ix] may divide regional countries into allies and threats.
Despite their historical issues, South Korea and Japan have been working towards improving their bilateral relations in recent times. The positive atmosphere that emerged with Washington encouraging Seoul and Tokyo to address their problems has overshadowed minor issues. The Camp David meeting, scheduled for August 18, 2023, can be seen as an endeavor by the US to strengthen its position in the North Pacific by helping its two ally states overcome their relationship issues and present a unified front against China.
[i] Kim Tong-Hyung-Hyung-Jin Kim “South Korean Plan Aims to Heal Forced Labor Feud with Japan”, AP News, apnews.com/article/south-korea-japan-forced-laborers-colonial-rule-e8e828901148c2f2528ce557f445772b, (Erişim Tarihi: 06.08.2023).
[ii] Jo He-rim, “Japan Restores South Korea to Export ‘Whitelist’ After 4 Years”, The Korea Herald, https://shorturl.at/muxzZ, (Erişim Tarihi: 27.08.2023).
[iii] “Number Of International Visitors to Japan in 2022, By Region of Origin”, Statista, https://shorturl.at/coxJY, (Erişim Tarihi: 06.08.2023).
[iv] Shim Woo-hyun, “Over 3m Koreans visit Japan in H1”, The Korea Herald, www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20230731000613#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20South%20Korean,according%20to%20government%20data%20Monday., (Erişim Tarihi: 09.08.2023).
[v] “Number of Japanese Travelers to South Korea from 2013 to 2022”, Statista, https://shorturl.at/clsw5, (Erişim Tarihi: 09.08.2023).
[vi] “Shim Woo-hyun “Over 3m Koreans…”, a.g.m
[vii] Dan Milmo-Graeme Wearden, “China Bans US Chipmaker Micron from Vital Infrastructure Projects”, The Guardian, www.theguardian.com/business/2023/may/22/china-bans-us-micron-technology, (Erişim Tarihi: 22.08.2023).
[viii] “Biden To Host Camp David Summit with Japan and South Korea Next Month, Congressman Says”, Reuters, www.reuters.com/world/china/biden-host-camp-david-summit-with-japan-south-korea-next-month-us-congressman-2023-07-27/, (Erişim Tarihi: 09.08.2023).
[ix] “Camp David Summit Could Be Dangerous for Japan, South Korea: Global Times Editorial”, Global Times, www.globaltimes.cn/page/202308/1295785.shtml, (Erişim Tarihi: 09.08.2023).