Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak agreed to expand the two countries’ currency swap arrangement last month in an effort to stabilize their currency markets. In an email interview, Jeff Kingston, the director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan, discussed Japan-South Korea relations.
WPR: How have diplomatic, trade and security relations between South Korea and Japan evolved over the past decade?
Jeff Kingston: During Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s tenure from 2001 to 2006, relations had been stymied by disputes over historical issues dating back to World War II. The deep freeze resulted from Koizumi’s repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which stoked anti-Japanese nationalism in South Korea because it a talismanic symbol of Japanese colonial oppression. Since then, however, relations have improved, mainly because South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has downplayed such historical grievances. But with South Korean presidential and parliamentary elections upcoming in 2012, the temptation to politicize history is rising, since the ruling Grand National Party is vulnerable on this score.