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Asia Minute: Painful history and pragmatic politics for U.S. allies in East Asia

South Korea Japan
Ahn Young-joon
Protesters tear a banner with the Japanese rising-sun flag during a rally against the South Korean government's move to improve relations with Japan, in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. South Korea's president on Wednesday called Japan "a partner that shares the same universal values" and renewed hopes to repair ties frayed over Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea and Japan have a complicated history, and the relationship is increasingly important to the United States.

The president of South Korea Yoon Suk Yeol said Japan has “transformed from a militaristic aggressor of the past into a partner.”

He made the case that closer cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo can help on issues from regional security to South Korean economic prosperity.

Yoon made his remarks on “Independence Movement Day”— marking a milestone in the painful history of the countries: the birth of a Korean independence movement in 1919.

Japan ruled Korea as a colony from 1910 to 1945 — and scars linger.

Japanese troops forced Korean women into sexual slavery during WWII. Other Koreans were forced to perform wartime labor for Japanese companies.

Demands for an apology continue, along with a call for reparations.

In 2018, South Korea's Supreme Court held Japanese companies liable for damages.

Japan rejects that ruling, saying the issue was settled when the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1965.

Meanwhile, the corporate sector is moving ahead with cooperation.

Just this week, Korean battery maker LG Energy Solution held a ceremony with Honda Motor on a joint project: a $4.4 billion battery plant for electric vehicles, breaking ground in Ohio.

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