Kamala Harris encourages Japan-South Korea reconciliation to counter China

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Harris said the United States in response would “deepen our unofficial ties” with the disputed island that China considers part of its territory.

Escalating tensions over Taiwan have heightened the potential for conflict in an already volatile corner of the globe. But the heart of US plans to deter or confront China hinges on alliances that are under strain.

Despite new reconciliation efforts, South Korea and Japan, which Harris called the “pivot” and “cornerstone” of US strategy in Asia, continue to be at odds and torn apart by the effects of World War II. world.

The United States is pushing both sides to compromise as it tries to refocus its alliances to counter China’s growing strength.

The state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the focal point of Harris’ four-day visit to the region. She told reporters she saw US foreign policy in the region “in the context of a trilateral relationship,” with cooperation from the United States, Japan and South Korea.

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, said Harris had encouraged South Korean and Japanese leaders to push their negotiations forward during his meetings with them.

The United States wants “to see two of our closest allies around the world work even better with each other” and “we are delighted to see that both countries seem committed to addressing these issues with real vigour.” the manager said.

However, the official said the United States had a limited role to play.

“It’s not up to us to mediate, negotiate or negotiate what this relationship should look like,” the official said.

Point of contention between Japan and South Korea

Years before the conflict began, Japan colonized the Korean peninsula and forced many people into forced labor and women into sexual slavery. Despite the passage of time, tensions still surface in discussions of trade, technology and intelligence sharing.

Although efforts are being made to repair their relationship, progress is still uncertain. The disputes are firmly rooted in issues of national honor and responsibility for some of Asia’s worst atrocities. The leaders of both countries face domestic political challenges that can make it more difficult to strike deals abroad.

South Korea believes it is entitled to more money from Japan in addition to a fuller admission of guilt. Japanese leaders resisted, saying these issues had already been resolved.

Efforts to reconcile differences

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met last week at the United Nations, the first meeting between the leaders of the two countries in three years.

Then, on Wednesday, after Abe’s funeral, South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo met with Kishida and called their nations “close neighbors and cooperative partners who share the values ​​of democracy and the principles of democracy.” market economy”.

If South Korea and Japan do not cooperate, the United States will struggle to achieve its goals, according to Kristi Govella, deputy director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

“Overall, the three countries share the same concerns, but the will and ability to act is not always aligned among the three,” she said.

Concerns over Taiwan, where Chinese and American saber rattles have stoked fears of conflict, have heightened tensions. Beijing was outraged by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit in August and retaliated with military exercises.

President Joe Biden recently said the United States would send troops if China attacked. Although Taiwan is a self-governing democracy, Beijing considers the island part of its territory and has pledged to unite it with the mainland.

Harris accused China of a “pressure campaign against Taiwan” with “a series of destabilizing actions”.

“We anticipate continued aggressive behavior from Beijing as it attempts to unilaterally undermine the status quo,” she said Wednesday.

Speaking on behalf of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Wang Wenbin said in response to Harris that the United States had broken its promise to respect China’s territorial integrity.

“When the United States cannot honor its own commitment, in what position can it speak of rules and order? It will only sabotage international rules,” Wang told a daily briefing.

The Challenges of Reconciliation

Under Abe and former South Korean Prime Minister Moon Jae-in, relations between South Korea and Japan deteriorated. After South Korea’s Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings in 2018 and ordered Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to pay compensation to Korean forced laborers, Abe’s administration reacted angrily.

When Japan implemented export restrictions on chemicals critical to South Korea’s semiconductor industry in 2019, those rulings heightened tensions. Japan also removed South Korea from the list of countries with preferential trade status, citing declining confidence.

In a tit-for-tat move, the Moon administration downgraded Japan’s trade status and accused Abe of militarizing trade. Even though it was a major symbol of their tripartite security cooperation with Washington, Seoul even threatened to break its military intelligence sharing agreement with Tokyo.

South Korea eventually backed down and pushed ahead with the deal under pressure from former President Donald Trump’s administration, which until then had been content to let U.S. allies escalate their feud.

South Korea’s semiconductor industry has been relatively unaffected by Japanese export restrictions, experts say, thanks in part to South Korea’s successful efforts to diversify its sources of chemicals and materials.

But there are fears Japan could respond with further economic retaliation if South Korean courts approve a process to liquidate the local assets of Japanese companies that have refused court orders to offer reparations to South Korean victims of forced labor.

It would undermine U.S. hopes of boosting computer chip production among allies, stabilizing fragile supply chains and fending off Chinese investment in technology.

Harris met with Japanese business leaders on Wednesday and said “no country can meet global demand” and “it’s important that we and our allies team up and coordinate.”

Japan insists that all wartime compensation issues were settled under a 1965 treaty normalizing relations between the two nations, which included hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul.

Yoon, the South Korean president who took office in May, expressed hope to find a way to resolve the compensation issue without “causing a clash of sovereignties”.

However, since South Korean plaintiffs have always rejected the idea of ​​receiving compensation from the South Korean government rather than Japanese companies, it is unclear what kind of compromise the two nations might reach.

Kishida also says that relations between the two nations need to be strengthened due to the deteriorating security situation in the region, despite the insistence of Japanese officials that Seoul take the initiative and come up with ideas that Japan can support.

Daniel Sneider, a professor of East Asian studies at Stanford University, wrote recently that Japan and South Korea are brought together by threats, including North Korea.

However, he said both countries will have to make compromises for their cooperation – and their alliances with the United States – to reach their full potential.

“True trilateral cooperation, even with strategic imperatives, depends on resolving deep disputes over wartime history and justice,” he wrote.

Reconciliation of Japan and South Korea is crucial to counter China

A senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute specializing in Asian defense strategy, Zack Cooper, said that “there is a feeling that the likelihood of a serious crisis in Taiwan is growing quite rapidly.”

Fractures between U.S. allies could undermine any response to an invasion, said Fang-Yu Chen, a political science professor at Soochow University in Taipei, Taiwan.

“If they don’t have a good relationship with each other, there will be problems,” he said.

(With AP inputs)

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