Asia's Game of Thrones
Japanese-South Korean Relations Warm as Tensions Mount

A canary in the coal-mine: South Korea and Japan are entering a period of warmer relations, according to Bloomberg:

When Gen Nakatani arrives in Seoul on Tuesday he’ll be the first Japanese defense minister to visit South Korea in nearly five years, signaling that growing regional security risks are trumping the disputes over territory and history that have blighted relations between the countries.

Nakatani’s trip comes days after South Korean President Park Geun Hye said she was willing to hold her first bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Park will host the Japanese leader in two weeks for the resumption of annual trilateral summits with China and South Korea that ground to a halt in 2012 when relations turned sour.

Any sign of easing tensions between Japan and South Korea will be welcomed by the U.S., whose efforts to balance out China’s growing assertiveness in the region and deter threats from a nuclear North Korea have been hampered by animosity between its two main East Asian allies. The flurry of diplomatic activity comes 18 months after U.S. President Barack Obama sought to nudge Park and Abe toward a rapprochement by inviting them to trilateral talks in the Hague.

China has been trying to soften Japan and South Korea lately, but, at least for the moment, Seoul and Tokyo appear unconvinced, with North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal and China’s new warmth toward Pyongyang inspiring wariness.

And in a move that shows just how intense regional tensions have become, this skepticism is pushing Seoul and Tokyo closer together. Bad feelings run deep between the populaces of Japan and South Korea, and these reluctant allies only hug when they must. In that sense, ugly relations between Japan and South Korea would actually be a better sign for the future of northeast Asia than the rapprochement this story depicts. A detente between the two countries would only happen in a deteriorating regional environment.

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