Historical antagonisms are again preventing Japan and South Korea from cooperating on important issues. Despite being neighbors with a range of shared economic and security interests, unsettled grievances continue to damage relations between two of Asia’s largest military and economic powers.
Two hot-button historical issues have popped up recently, both of which have their origins in the colonial era and its hasty conclusion. South Korea was a Japanese colony from 1910-1945 and gained independence in the wake of Japan’s defeat in World War II.
The first is the two countries’ long-simmering feud over the Dokdo islets, a series of rocks that sit between Japan and South Korea. The issue comes up every spring, when Japan’s Ministry of Education approves textbooks to be used in elementary schools the following year. Of this year’s 39 approved textbooks, 29 -- three more than last year -- claim Japanese sovereignty over Dokdo, known as Takeshima in Japan. Next month will also see the release of Japan’s diplomatic Blue Paper, a document that sets out foreign policy stances for the coming year. Last year’s version made claims to Dokdo that are unlikely to be retracted this year, thus providing a chance for another flare-up.