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Asia Minute: Thawing Relations Between South Korea and Japan?

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Relations may be improving between two of the closest allies the United States has in Asia. South Korea’s new president sent a special envoy to Japan this week—and the reception was very positive. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.


South Korea and Japan have agreed to revive regular summit meetings between their leaders—a normal practice from 2003 until 2011.

For more than three years after that, there was no meeting at all between the heads of the two countries and relations since have remained on the frosty side.

New South Korean President Moon Jae-in sent a special envoy to Tokyo this week with a two page letter for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, suggesting the resumption of more frequent top-level meetings.

The Prime Minister agreed saying the two countries are each other’s “most important neighbors, sharing strategic interests.”

Those definitely include North Korea — although there are differences in approach.

Even sharper differences exist on the topic of South Korean women forced into sexual slavery during World War Two sometimes called “comfort women.”

Japan and South Korea reached an agreement to resolve the issue in 2015—with an apology from the Prime Minister and a payment of roughly 9 millon dollars to a fund for victims.

But during his presidential campaign, Moon said the deal should be renegotiated.

Abe says the two governments need to “properly manage” the existing agreement.

Overall relations are complicated by issues from geographic claims to history—the two countries did not reestablish diplomatic relations after the war until 1965.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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