Seoul and Tokyo Stare Each Other Down

Jul 18, 2019 | 09:00 GMT

This map shows the theater of the war between Russia and Japan in 1904.

This map shows the theater of the war between Russia and Japan in 1904. By 1910, Japan had annexed Korea, beginning an occupation that would produce lasting enmity between the island nation and the peninsula.


  • Japan's move to impose unprecedented trade measures against South Korea to retaliate against its increasingly hard-line stance toward Tokyo's wartime conduct will leave Seoul with few options to respond effectively.
  • Domestic political drivers in both South Korea and Japan will make it difficult for the two sides to reach a compromise on their outstanding wartime tensions. 
  • Both the United States and China will push the pair to de-escalate their impasse. 

Economic progress might alleviate historical trauma, but it's unlikely to solve it. Today, South Korea and Japan are vibrant democracies that enjoy robust economies and protection under the U.S. military umbrella, yet Japan's wartime actions continue to cast a long shadow over its relations with its neighbors in Northeast Asia. South Korea's 35 years under Japanese rule, status as a fellow U.S. ally and vulnerable geopolitical position between Japan and China ensure that Japan's imperial legacy is particularly contentious on the peninsula. This painful history has been front and center since the 2017 election of President Moon Jae In, who has taken a more confrontational stance on historical issues. Indeed, their ties have become much frostier in the past two years -- to the extent that Tokyo has even launched a Trump-style trade war in recent weeks. Given the deep connections between their economies and Japan's long-time trade surplus, Tokyo...

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