(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Asian Tremors
The Seoul-Tokyo Split

Fraught relations between Japan and South Korea could upend Washington’s best-laid plans in Asia, to China’s advantage.

Published on: November 27, 2017
J. Berkshire Miller is a senior visiting fellow with the Japan Institute of International Affairs, based in Tokyo. He is also a senior fellow at the Asian Forum Japan.
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  • TPAJAX

    Purely a failure on Trumps part. The Communist Party in Beijing has been waging economy warfare against Seoul all year, from sanctions of varying types to even cancelling Chinese tour group packages to Seoul. Trump said and did nothing about it. Never even tweeted about it even once.

    The CCP used economic warfare, trump said and did nothing to back up Seoul, and Seoul gave in. No additional THAAD and no joint ROK-JP forces. Champagne popped in Beijing.

    • Everett Brunson

      You are not willing to concede that Trump may be playing a much larger game?

    • KremlinKryptonite

      I share your disappointment in that he hasn’t said or done much about it. But I must make two points. First, the interoperability between the US, ROK, and Japan already exists. That’s half the battle already done. And the US already has shared, joint operations commands with each of the others, and even a joint special operations unit with Korea. Second, look at the economic picture. South Korea manages to have a large trade surplus with China. Being the deficit country, China used its leverage against Korea. Now, who has an even larger, almost other-worldly trade deficit…with China? You know who.

      The US has that kind of leverage over the Chinese, and anytime the US govt wants to tell the whining, outsourcing corporate interests to shut it and press on with what’s in the national interest instead of international, MNC interests then it could use that power to great effect.

      • Steve Smith

        MNC interests are loaded with money and the idea of the USG telling them to “shut it” is much easier said than done. What is the mechanism for forcing them to abandon their profitable relationships with China anyway?

        In any case, the US project of trying to weld Japan and South Korea into an anti-China alliance is one of the great Sisyphean labors of recent times. Push the boulder up the hill, and then watch it roll down again. Darn those Koreans–they just aren’t interested in linking arms with Japan to contain China. Too much history for that to happen.

        • KremlinKryptonite

          Of course. Korea has historically been invaded by both China and Japan. I hear racial epithets against both groups on the streets here of Seoul every single day (I live here). But I can also say that the feelings are dwindling, particularly against the Japanese. You really don’t find fervent hatred of both Chinese and Japanese except in those over 50. Of course Koreans live a long life, so you might still have it for a few decades impacting politics. The Chinese are little bit different because the regime in Beijing impacts Korean security in a negative way, so I would look for that malice to persist longer. Indeed the Chinese managed to hit the low earlier this year, even less popular than japanese, but that’s purely due to the economic warfare waged against Seoul by Beijing over missile defense, i.e. trying to remedy a security dilemma that Beijing helped to create in the first place.

          About the corporate interests basically owning the government I hear you, I really do. And that lasts up until precisely such a time that the relationship breaks apart NASCAR-style. There were an awful lot of business interests trying to prevent World War I, as well as World War II! Don’t ever think it cannot happen again.
          Even so, and in the meantime, just look abroad. Germany, Japan, Korea, China, and many others. Each of these countries continue to use smart, protectionist policies to one degree or another. This obviously prevents native business interests from perhaps doing all that they’d like to globally, and at the expense of their native population. I can’t point to any other group of people on this planet being taken for a greater ride than Americans; although, they do seem to be rapidly waking up to the fact.

          • TPAJAX

            I can definitely agree with that. It becomes a matter of maintaining stability in the US to respond to attacks. Why have a government if it doesn’t even respond to attacks? For example, if the Chinese sink a US aircraft carrier tomorrow it would certainly be in the best interest of MNCs to do little or nothing about it. But such an egregious attack on a $2 billion piece of equipment with 5000 to 6000 Americans onboard simply has to be responded to. Such an incident seems to be the one time that we know for sure MNCs don’t control thing. And then the ladder of escalation kicks in.

            And I can definitely see that. Korea has definitely been abused by Japan and China historically. Never mistake a Korean for Japanese or Chinese, or Vietnamese for Chinese, because they might just take your head off. They will certainly yell your head off!

  • D4x

    J. Berkshire Miller writes: “While the dinner should have provided an opportune occasion to reinforce the alliance, show solidarity in the face of growing aggression from North Korea, and indicate unity with Japan’s security, it instead turned into a sideshow […]

    Those of us reading The Korean Herald on November 7, 2017 were impressed by

    […]Moon and his wife Kim Jung-sook presented traditional Korean stone bowls, brass spoons and chopsticks as gifts to Trump and his wife Melania Trump after the state dinner, the presidential office said.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2267c008031d85a6e970bbfd1b249166132f661f443b58905d407e54aeb61237.jpg Photo: Yonhap
    On the back of the spoons and chopsticks, called “notsujeo” in Korean, the phrase “we go together” was engraved, along with the visit’s date — “2017.11.7.” The inscriptions were to represent the close relations between the leaders and the strong alliance between their countries, the office said.

    The stone bowls, or “dolsot” in Korean, are a symbolic gift given to those who have accomplished remarkable achievements, according to the office.” http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20171107000976

    [ADDING: When I checked the morning news at 8:00 am ET, EVERY network was covering the tragedy of St. Antonio.
    C-Span had Rahm Emmanuel on “The Clinton Legacy”. At the same time, President and FL Trump were at their SECOND State Dinner in a row: Monday in Japan, Tuesday in South Korea. Adding that I did read The Japan Times, upset over the two ‘issues’ J. Berkshire Miller uses to disrespect South Korea, and display his implicit bias.. No mention of the PeyongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, or FL Melania’s GirlsPlay2 public diplomacy in Seoul to draw attention to the Olympic Torch arrival in RoK on Nov. 4. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b1cdbee8ce22e1db0099d47ccd6ea152aa1dec31b67d16c5053328fd8402d0fc.jpg

    RoK First Lady Kim Jung-sook also had a special tea with FL Melania:

    ‘Serene Morning of PyeongChang’ tea with Gotgam (Yonhap)
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/dacc774e895478052a36b532b73c558a1301bcaaab77b900ced3d0e71d95a349.jpg […]The refreshments for the reception are reportedly chocolate-coated dried persimmons, called “gotgam” in Korean, and
    herb tea, dubbed “Serene Morning of PyeongChang.” PyeongChang is an
    alpine town in South Korea and venue for the upcoming Winter Olympic Games.

    To make gotgam, Kim picked persimmons in person from trees inside Cheong Wa Dae weeks ago, and hung them to dry them under the eaves of the presidential residence, the official said. In Korea, gotgam, which
    requires more than a month to make, is traditionally used as a refreshment or as an ingredient in other foods. […]
    “First lady Kim has personally been making gotgam for weeks for President Trump and his wife. She put her whole mind to the
    refreshment in order to treat them with the highest respect,” the official said.

    Kim made “gotgam ssam” by inserting walnuts into dried persimmons and then coating them with chocolate with the help of an
    expert, the official said. ‘Serene Morning of PyeongChang,’ which is
    made by blending hydrangea from the 700-meter-high Mount Balwang in PyeongChang
    with Western and Oriental herbs, bears a wish to make the steadfast South Korea-US alliance last long,”
    http://www.koreaherald.com/common/newsprint.php?ud=20171107000549

    Japan will survive ShrimpGate, and still needs to make a better apology for their horrendous treatment of Koreans during WW2.]

    • Everett Brunson

      It wasn’t until your posts on food and fashion’s impact on diplomacy did I ever pay attention. Despite the “signal” to Abe in the Korean state dinner I too feel Korea and Japan will survive both ShrimpGate and what is due to the Korean people in regard to Japan’s treatment of its former vassal during WWII. The fact that Korea has long been a pawn between China and Japan is lost on most Americans.

      History never dies in the Far East while it is reinvented generationally here in the U.S.

  • FastPass40

    What is not mentioned by Western media and academics is that Abe’s grandfather was commerce minister for Hirohito during WWII. Can you imagine Germany electing the grandson of a Hitler cabinet member to prime minister? Abe has also said comfort women were ordinary prostitutes (who volunteered to be shipped to the South Pacific??) rather than trafficked women. He has visited Yasukuni shrine to honor war criminals. Japan also claims Liancourt Rocks, which would be like Germany claiming an island off France which was not specifically mentioned by treaty as territory to be returned.

    If Germany denied the Holocaust and elected Himmler’s grandson prime minister, Europe would never accept Germany as an ally. Easy to dismiss it as “oh those darn Koreans.”

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