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Asia's Game of Thrones
South Korea and Japan Draw Nearer

In the first bilateral talks between the two countries since 2012, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to speed up the resolution of the “comfort women” dispute, according to Reuters:

“Regarding the issue of “comfort women”, I believe we should not leave behind difficulties for future generations as we try to build a future-oriented cooperative relationship,” Abe told reporters in Seoul after the talks, which lasted about an hour and 40 minutes.

“It’s the 50th anniversary of the normalization of (Japan-South Korea) ties this year. Keeping that in mind, we’ve agreed to accelerate talks for the earliest possible resolution.”

The meeting was a diplomatic plus for Abe, who had sought two-way talks with Park amid a push by the United States for Japan and South Korea to improve relations in the face of an increasingly assertive China and an unpredictable North Korea.

Park told Abe that the dispute, which is over Japan’s responsibility to make amends for the sexual enslavement of Korean women during the 1930s and ’40s, was the “biggest stumbling block” in the path of better bilateral ties. Both leaders seemed to indicate that an agreement might come soon, perhaps even before the end of the year, though neither gave details about what it might look like.

The bilateral meeting came on the heels of a trilateral summit between Park, Abe, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Seoul. China had been signaling a desire to ease tensions in the north, even as it raises them in the South China Sea. Beijing has sought to give the impression that it got what it wanted in Seoul, and all three leaders said that cooperation has been “completely” restored between them.

Although the three countries did agree to resume negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program and to work towards a free trade agreement, plenty of cause for tension remains. Japan and China continue to squabble over islands in the East China Sea, and Japan contests China’s activities in the South China Sea. In his meeting with Park, Abe made sure to emphasize the importance of U.S. freedom of navigation exercises.

South Korea and Japan only hug when they must. If Tokyo and Seoul are talking about cooperating on contentious issues like comfort women, that suggests the two aren’t naively entering a détente with Beijing.

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  • Dhako

    Still, missing the trees for the Forest, I see. Now, think this way: Korea has much more to gain from her relationship with China than she could ever hope to get from Japan. And, that is largely due the fact China is Korea largest trading partner, they have a free trade agreement; and they see – in a soot-voce way – the “problem” of North Korea. Secondly, President Park was the only friend of USA, that was at the China’a 70 anniversary of the end of WWII in Beijing.

    Thirdly, regardless of how these comfort women are resolved between Korea and Japan, the the relationship between the two is effectively empty in comparison to the one that is existence between China and Korea.

    And, lastly, as a strategist, you should know, that nations based their engagement on “interest” far more than sentiment. And, in that, sense, in so far as S/Korea is concern, her interest is effectively pulling her to the Chinese side, while keeping the American Ace”, as a insurance policy, just in case, the China play doesn’t pan out for her, particularly in-terms of the ability of the Chinese side to contain the danger North Korea is to South Korea.

    And, in this game of strategical three-leg-stool, which consist of China, South Korea, and USA, it seems, Japan, is basically, spectator, at best, or at worst, she desperately want to gate-crash into this finely-balance triangle, but, South Korea, sees nothing of importance (in her view) in which Japan can add to the strategical requirement of Korea vis-a-vis China as well as vis-a-vis that of North Korea.

    Hence, all the talk of resumed dialogue between South Korea and Japan will not change the reality in which South Korea strategical thinking is made of, which is the reason, that, South Korea, will, economically, and strategically, drift away under the logic of her predicament, towards, a fulsome embrace of China, despite the best intention of US, to thwart that.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    China’s belligerence continues to herd all the cats in the same direction. Too bad Obama is the worst President in American History, and won’t use this window of opportunity, he probably can’t even see it from his leftist anti-American view point.

    • Andrew Allison

      That’s what comes from being the smartest guy on the planet, er in the room in one’s own mind.

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