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The Deepening Relations in the North Pacific: Seoul-Washington-Tokyo Alliance

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After the March 16, 2023 meeting between Yoon Suk-yeol and Fumio Kishida, relations between Seoul and Tokyo have been more positive than ever. Both the steps taken to resolve long-standing problems between the two states and the impact of North Korea on the security perceptions of regional states have played a decisive role in South Korea and Japan’s efforts to bring a new dimension to bilateral relations. Undoubtedly, the deepening relations between the two states, which are allies of the United States of America (USA), coincide with the interests and expectations of the USA.

Trade rapprochement, especially after steps were taken to resolve the issue of forced labor compensation, has been reinforced by Tokyo’s lifting of additional inspections on some export products used in the production of smartphone chips and screens since 2019. With bilateral trade volume exceeding $80 billion, the two economies are expected to further increase this figure in 2023. Moreover, if South Korea-Japan trade relations return to the structure of 2017-2018, South Korea’s exports to Japan are expected to hover around $2.69 billion.[1]

As the commercial rapprochement continued, a meeting between South Korean Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Park Bo-gyoon and his Japanese counterpart Saito Tetsuo took place on April 13, 2023 to discuss the necessary steps for tourism development.[2] As a result of the meeting, Park stated that they agreed on cooperation in the field of tourism. In addition, Park stated that the number of Japanese tourists visiting South Korea has increased recently, but it is still very small compared to the number of South Korean tourists visiting Japan.

In addition to economic relations, there is also a growing positive trend in military and political relations. Due to the deepening Sino-US rivalry in many areas, including the digital world, Japan directly, and South Korea indirectly, has become significantly concerned about China.

It is known that South Korea’s security perception is shaped around North Korea and the nuclear threat. In particular, China’s close relations with North Korea increases South Korea’s concerns. Moreover, this closeness indicates that Beijing is the only actor that can have an influence on North Korea’s decisions. At this point, China has both a negative and positive outlook for South Korea. Japan, on the other hand, sees China’s growing economic and military influence, which extends to many parts of the world, as a threat.

Since these three states, including the US, have a common security perception, it can be predicted that they will engage in joint military and political activities and improve their existing relations. As a matter of fact, on April 15, 2023, the South Korean Ministry of Defense announced that as a result of the “13th Trilateral Defense Talks” held on April 14, 2023, it was decided to regularly repeat anti-missile and submarine drills between Japan, South Korea and the United States.[3]

In addition to these developments, media reports suggest that US-South Korean intelligence cooperation may be expanded to include Japan. On March 15, 2023, returning from a visit to Washington, Kim Tae-hyo, South Korea’s Deputy Chief National Security Advisor, said at the airport that Japan was on the agenda to join the existing South Korea-US intelligence alliance.[4] The fact that this development comes at a time when efforts are underway to normalize the existing Japan-South Korea General Security and Military Intelligence Agreement (GSOMIA) could be interpreted as a sign that the US is also interested in better relations between Japan and South Korea.

While these developments were taking place on the Washington-Seoul-Tokyo line, it was claimed that a new agreement was signed between Russia and North Korea.[5] According to a report by ORF, the Russian mercenary company Wagner will supply North Korea with weapons in exchange for food supplies. This raises concerns about regional security as well as the war in Ukraine. In the face of such a move, which could result in North Korea having greater mobility, it can be argued that the relations between the Seoul-Tokyo-Washington trio will deepen.

To summarize briefly, the US-China rivalry and North Korea’s activities have led to a significant increase in security concerns in the Asia-Pacific region. These concerns, in turn, have opened the door for like-minded states to develop closer relations. The most obvious example of this situation is the search for cooperation between South Korea and Japan, which have long had many problems. It is obvious that the two US-allied states are getting closer to each other as a result of North Korea’s military activities. Not only military and the deepening of relations, not only in the political sphere but also economically after Japan lifted the additional inspections that had been in effect since 2019, is important for the future of relations between the parties. Therefore, it can be predicted that the US-South Korea-Japan alliance will deepen in the coming periods..


[1] “S. Korean Exports to Japan to Rise If Ties Normalize: Report All News 15:29 March 19, 2023”, Yonhap News Agency,en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20230319002600320#:~:text=Japan%20accounted%20for%204.5%20percent,Commerce%20and%20Industry%20(KORCHAM)., (Date of Accession: 19.03.2023).

[2] “S. Korea, Japan Agree to Boost Tourism”, Yonhab News Agency, en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20230415002100320, (Date of Accession :15.04.2023).

[3] “S. Korea, U.S., Japan agree to Hold Missile Defense, Anti-Sub Drills Regularly to Counter N. K. Threats”, Yonhap News Agency, en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20230415000600325, (Date of Accession: 15.04.2023)

[4] “Korea, U.S. Could Expand Intelligence Partnership to Include Japan”, Korea JoongAng Daily, koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/2023/04/16/national/diplomacy/Korea-United-States-intelligence-alliance/20230416162151247.html, (Date of Accession: 16.04.2023):

[5] “Russia-North Korea Deal ‘Food for Weapons’ Raises Geopolitical Concerns”, Mint, www.livemint.com/news/world/russianorth-korea-deal-food-for-weapons-raises-geopolitical-concerns-11681543498449.html, (Date of Accession: 15.04.2023).

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.