Korea-Japan Relations, 50 Years In: Demystifying the Paradox of Cyclical Tensions and Rapprochment

Korea Chair Platform

In advance of the August 15 anniversary of the end of the Pacific War, issues of history and historical memory have become high politics in Asia. This timely analysis by CSIS Korea Chair Adjunct Fellow and former NSC Director for Asian Affairs Katrin Katz offers a deeper conceptual and historical perspective on historical antagonism in the Japan-Korea relationship that moves past the media headlines.

East Asia is renowned for its combination of “cold politics and hot economics,” where “rivalries and confrontation coincide with increased economic cooperation and community building.” Fifty years since the normalization of Republic of Korea (ROK)-Japan ties, cyclical patterns related to this dynamic have become commonplace. Tensions between South Korea and Japan periodically rise, most often concerning issues related to unresolved legacies of Japan’s colonization of Korea and World War II, and, with time, fall, as leaders in Tokyo and Seoul decide to shelve the thorny historical issues to cooperate on economic and security matters. South Korean President Park Geun-hye in her speech to a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress dubbed this pattern “Asia’s paradox,” noting “how we manage this paradox – this will determine the shape of a new order in Asia.”