The geopolitical realities are proving to be a strong catalyst for improved relations between Japan and South Korea
The meeting comes close on the heels of Pyongyang stepping up its nuclear weapons programme in recent years and an escalation in geostrategic and geoeconomic uncertainty prompted by China’s advances and aggression in the Indo-Pacific maritime space.Nonetheless, five years later, the Yoon-Kishida meeting resulted in both sides agreeing to resume bilateral visits, take steps to resolve the trade dispute, increase security cooperation, and establish greater business linkages. The meeting comes close on the heels of Pyongyang stepping up its nuclear weapons programme in recent years and an escalation in geostrategic and geoeconomic uncertainty prompted by China’s advances and aggression in the Indo-Pacific maritime space. While the regional security landscape has been characterised by these factors earlier as well, the intensity has been redefined. Therefore, both Japan and ROK realised that they stand to benefit from burying the hatchet of past grievances.
Regarding bilateral security cooperation, the two countries agreed to strengthen their security cooperation by working together to develop new missile defence systems and sharing intelligence and coordinate sanctions as a common approach towards Pyongyang.For countries in the Indo-Pacific, an ROK-Japan rapprochement would greatly augment the efficacy of regional security as well as function-based partnerships. The two countries also discussed reinstating bilateral trade, which would relieve pressure from global high-tech supply chains. For Washington, it is a no-brainer that Seoul and Tokyo would want to reconcile given the regional unrest. But while many Koreans and Japanese do feel the same way, Korean labour victims believe such an approach shows both disregard and disrespect towards their suffering. Yoon had made it a priority to mend fractured bilateral ties since he assumed leadership and has been working steadfastly towards that end. It is part of his drive to carve and cultivate a more involved role for South Korea in the region and globally. To ensure that this newfound will and momentum are not lost, both Yoon and Kishida must work out a lasting and meaningful solution to the issue of compensation for the victims of Japan’s wartime forced labour. If Yoon can effectively manage the popular dissatisfaction, then politically and diplomatically, closer ties with Japan would be advantageous to both and will help bolster the security architecture of Northeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific. Cooperation between the two could also help to build trust between other countries in the region. However, in the absence of this, closer bilateral ties would always run the risk of developing fractures, hindering what could become a key fulcrum for the development of partnerships in the Indo-Pacific.
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Pratnashree Basu is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata, with the CNED programme. She is a 2017 US Department of State IVLP Fellow ...Read More +