Open Forum

Japan-ROK relations stand at a great crossroads. What brought about this big test was the ruling issued in October 2018 by the South Korean Supreme Court on conscripted labor or, more precisely, the judgment concerning Korean wartime workers.1 With this, the court has recognized the right of these workers to claim compensation from Japanese firms, arousing an outraged response from the Japanese government and public. Then, in December, a South Korean naval destroyer locked its radar on a Japanese anti-submarine patrol craft, which extended the clash between the two countries to the security arena. Actually, the divide over security had emerged in late September—prior to the conscripted labor decision—with the conflict over the SDF warship’s “Rising Sun” flag. Through this series of events, emotions among defense personnel on both sides exacerbated considerably. One clear commonality could be found in the fact that the events that riled bilateral relations in this period were almost all started by “South Korean actions.” After the December 2015 foreign ministers’ agreement on the “comfort women” issue, when a comparatively stable situation prevailed in the relationship, this new situation coincided with the period after the Moon Jae-in administration was established.

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