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A rally in Seoul denouncing the Japanese government’s trade restrictions on South Korea South Korean students burn a banner of a Japanese rising sun flag and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a rally denouncing the Japanese government’s trade restrictions, Seoul, July 29, 2019 (AP photo by Ahn Young-joon).

In the Dispute Between Japan and South Korea, Echoes of Trump’s Trade Policy

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Japan and South Korea are in the midst of a nasty diplomatic dispute, and Japan is using trade restrictions as a weapon to try and resolve it. Beyond the potential threats to American and regional geopolitical interests if the two countries remain at loggerheads, the nature of the spat is also disturbing. Japan’s use of trade restrictions to force South Korea to back down, while publicly justifying them as necessary for national security reasons, echoes U.S. President Donald Trump’s cavalier approach to trade rules and alliance relations. If the dispute is not resolved quickly, it could complicate efforts to deal with North Korea as well as other regional threats, while also dealing another blow to the World Trade Organization and the rules-based trading system.

Seoul and Tokyo are key U.S. allies in the Pacific region, but their relations have long been strained by the legacy of Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula from 1910 until 1945. Japanese companies forced many Koreans to work for little or no pay and, during World War II, the Japanese military forced Korean women into sexual slavery. Japan insists that all war debts and reparation claims were settled under an agreement with South Korea, signed when the two countries normalized diplomatic relations in 1965. But the money provided by the Japanese government was part of a package of economic aid for the government in Seoul. The South Korean president at the time, Park Chung-hee, used most of the money for economic development and not to compensate individuals. Many South Koreans believe that Japan has never accepted full responsibility for its actions and that it should pay compensation directly to the victims of its human rights abuses or their descendants. ...

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