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Nikkan Kankei Shi (The History of South Korea-Japan Relations)


254 pages, paperback pocket edition, softcover




July 20, 2021



Published by

Iwanami Shoten

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Nikkan Kankei Shi

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Why have relations between Japan and South Korea suddenly deteriorated in recent years? As a possible reason, this book focuses on the fact that whereas relations between the two countries have changed from an “asymmetrical and complementary relationship” to a “symmetrical and competitive relationship,” neither country has been able to respond appropriately to this change.
During the Cold War, under an asymmetrical relationship characterized by (1) the superiority of Japan’s strength, (2) differences in government between Japan’s market democracy and South Korea’s developmental dictatorship, (3) relations limited to government and business relations, and (4) the unidirectional flow of interests, information, and values from Japan to South Korea, there developed a complementary relationship whereby South Korea achieved economic growth and political stability through cooperation with Japan and, by thus ensuring the superiority of South Korea’s régime to that of North Korea, the security of Japan and South Korea was guaranteed.
But with the end of the Cold War, South Korea’s transformation into an advanced nation, and its democratization, relations between Japan and South Korea changed to a symmetrical relationship as a result of (1) the equalization of Japan’s and South Korea’s strength, (2) the shared values of market democracy, (3) multitiered and diverse relationships including relations between local government and civil society in both countries and socio-cultural relations, and (4) the bidirectional flow of interests, information, and values between both countries. Further, now that the above-mentioned common goal had been achieved, it became unclear how and why they should cooperate in the future and a competitive relationship between them became quite pronounced, and consequently it has turned into a relationship in which it is difficult for either to yield to the other. It has become difficult for them to share the task of managing their confrontational relations rooted in historical and territorial issues so that they do not escalate.
In addition, divergence in foreign policy has also become noticeable. Both during the Cold War and since then Japan and South Korea have shared an alliance with the United States, and this shared alliance became a bond between the two countries. But as the Cold War came to an end and the alliance with the United States changed in nature, symmetrical Japan and South Korea have formed a competitive relationship regarding their alliance with the United States, and this has also had an influence on relations between the two countries.
Next, there is the existence of North Korea. South Korea secured political régime superiority over North Korea, but since then it has not proceeded in a straight line towards the institutionalization of peaceful coexistence with North Korea aimed at unification led by South Korea. Various factors shaping relations between North and South Korea and between Japan and North Korea, such as North Korea’s development of nuclear missiles that have Japan and South Korea in their range, the abduction of Japanese citizens, and the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea, have also had an influence on relations between Japan and South Korea and will continue to do so in the future.
There is also the presence of China. In the early stages of the Cold War, China was a “hostile country” for Japan and South Korea. But as relations with China have deepened through the normalization of diplomatic relations, China has become an important political and economic partner for Japan and South Korea. However, as China has grown into a major power and Sino-American relations have become more confrontational, Japan and South Korea are faced with a choice about how to respond to this, and this, too, will have an influence on relations between the two countries.
This book analyzes these developments in relations between Japan and South Korea with a view to reconsidering why relations have deteriorated to such an extent and also considering how to grapple with this state of affairs.


(Written by KIMIYA Tadashi,, Professor, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences / 2021)

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