The Trump administration has expressed concerns on deteriorating relations between South Korea and Japan, which is known to be at the worst of times. U.S. Ambassador to Korea Harry Harris conveyed Trump’s message in a lecture on Thursday that “good relations between Korea and Japan would bring good U.S., Korea and Japanese relations.” The comment suggests that even the Trump administration, which previously chose not to actively mediate relations between the two countries, considers the deteriorating situation to be a serious issue.
The U.S. Congress and political circles express considerable concern on South Korea–Japan relations. House speaker Nancy Pelosi echoed the concerns to the leadership of Korean political parties who visited Washington last month and urged to improve ties with Japan.
South Korea–Japan relationship has continued to deteriorate since last October when the Korean Supreme Court ruled on the compensation to Koreans who were in forced labor during the Japanese colonial rule. There were several issues of dispute, such as the dissolution of the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation and the Japanese patrol plane radar issues, but both countries appeared to have no interest in addressing the issues. Both countries were criticized as applying “strategic negligence” as foreign policy strategies taken advantage of by the leadership in domestic politics.
The conflicts between South Korea and Japan have deep roots, but relations have remained in balance since the Korean War, under the umbrella of South Korea-U.S. alliance and the South Korea, the U.S. and Japanese alliance. These relations were aligned for anticommunism in the Cold War and more recently leveraged to keep North Korea and China in check to promote peace and security in East Asia, which is why cooperative relations between the two countries are needed going forward. Now the leadership of both countries should keep cool and come up with realistic solutions for the longer term. Dialogue between the leaders of the two countries would be most critical to ease tensions between the two countries.