What To Know About the Seoul-Tokyo Détente

By Ana Perez, 10th Grade

The animosity between Japan and South Korea has been present ever since World War II. Despite having a common enemy – North Korea – the two countries never formally aligned with each other as South Korea had been reluctant to cooperate with Japan beyond humanitarian search-and-rescue missions. Yet, both countries have agreed to expand their military cooperation against North Korea. Analysts have called this a “detente,” which is defined as “the easing of hostility or strained relations, especially between countries.”

Japan and South Korea’s relationship has been characterized by mistrust and territorial disputes in recent years, as issues unresolved from Japan’s invasion of the country in World War II still strain the relationship between the two to this day. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Seong-Yol have attempted to rebuild their relationship for years, but most attempts have failed to provide long-term closure to the historical hostilities that have plagued both countries. 

This attempt at reconciliation in particular seems to focus on the military aspect. Galic (2023) states that “reinvigorating security ties between their countries was reportedly on the agenda for Yoon and Kishida during their meetings in Tokyo. This includes intelligence sharing, the resumption of bilateral security dialogues suspended since 2018, and, potentially, the establishment of an information-sharing framework on North Korean ballistic missile launches.” Both countries want to focus their military cooperation on North Korea, as their leader, Kim Jong-Un, was photographed by state media in a warehouse with various missiles and rocket launchers. As two of North Korea’s closest enemies, these types of pictures are reason enough for the two nations to align with each other. As the saying goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The Korean Central News Agency claims that Seoul has formally reinstated a bilateral intelligence-sharing agreement that would allow the two nations to retaliate against North Korea. Galic (2023) adds that “intelligence and information sharing between Japan and South Korea would increase deterrence against North Korea — something of direct interest to the United States — especially since Japan has enhanced its domestic capability to respond to attacks.” 

Both countries affirm they “share the same ideas on freedom, democracy and a market economy” and that they must “develop ties based on friendship and cooperation.” However, whether this detente will last remains to be seen.


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