What We Learn From Edwin Reischauer About the U.S. Role in Japan-Korea Relations
June 29, 2015
With foreign minister Yun Byung-se’s visit to Tokyo and courtesy call on Prime Minister Abe Shinzo this week, it looks as though the feud between Japan and the Republic of Korea that has stymied bilateral relations may be coming to a close. Both governments celebrated the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic normalization treaty on Monday in a low-key but positive fashion, and speculation is that the two leaders will finally hold their first bilateral summit on the sidelines of a trilateral ROK-Japan-China meeting later this fall hosted in Seoul.
The causes for the current dispute are many, but I would point to two. The first was President Lee Myung-bak’s visit to Dokdo island in 2012. Lee’s visit was in retrospect ill-advised, not because Korea does not have the right to lay claim to the island, but because it violated the cardinal rule of unresolved historical issues in international relations – that is, if you cannot do any good, then do no further harm. Prior to Lee’s visit, a routine cycle of diplomacy over Dokdo included the annual “Takeshima day” in Japan, that was then followed by Korean protests. This cycle would create irritants in the relationship, but it was predictable and therefore manageable. Lee’s visit, the first ever by a Korean president, broke this tenuous status quo, forcing reactions on the Japanese side.
*This article first appeared in Korean on June 26, 2015 in JoongAng Daily, available online.