Japanese-Korean Relations and the American National Interest

A noted scholar of Islamic civilization, Marshall G. S. Hodgson, said something important about history through his work. The things of this world, in particular cultures, societies, and nations, are the products of interrelations. Everything that comes to be passes away, but organized human existence shows influences, cross-fertilizations, and interpenetrations of behavior, inventions, and events. No people and no nation is an island, no matter how much some try.

Many countries view themselves at a distance as enemies or friends, and perhaps warily. Two such countries are South Korea and Japan. The 20th century saw a nadir in their relations. Much historical mistrust continues. However, a recent agreement between the leaders of these two great nations and peoples in East Asia marked a moment that should become a watershed.

President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reached an accord to end a decades old division over the issue of Korean comfort women. These women served as prostitutes for the Japanese army during the conflict and occupation of Korea by Japan. The two leaders agreed to end open and official conflict over the matter. An apology and reparations fund will come from Japan. The Korean government will cease official comment against Japan on the matter.

Predictably, not everyone liked the result. The comfort women in particular and nationalists on both sides found the agreement wanting. Change leads to disappointment and dissent. They signal real as opposed to superficial action.

Much bigger fish, arguably, need to be fried by these two key allies of the United States, most notably concerning the Japan - U.S. Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. This arrangement, that bodes accounting for upwards of half the world's trade to come, is perhaps one of the most critical policy and diplomatic efforts in force by the United States and allies. Positive bilateral developments occur through American encouragement and promote other trilateral possibilities.

The United States should continue to support these two countries in mending their relations and in bridging their differences toward practical engagement. This increases regional and global stability. A more peaceful, pacific, and productive Korean-Japanese alliance decreases pressures on American military and other capital to safeguard global peace and democracy.

It's also the case that Japan and Korea show Hodgson's theory. A survey of the history of both nations shows that they are cousins at minimum and more like brother and sister peoples. Their histories and even genealogies intersect, as human historical investigation goes. Much that amounts to Japan today came from Korea. Much that amounts to Korea today came from Japan. It's important but need not detain us forever to discuss the tenor and form of the interrelations that existed. That's because today, these two former enemies begin to show more friendship. That's what should continue. We in this country should support both countries and leaders. The national interest and advancing international humanity demand it.

We should give credit where credit is due, to both national leaders as strong leaders. Strong here means that Park and Abe acted in ways that likely surprised their electoral and political bases. Their actions might even in the short-term have caused them difficulties, but over the long-term they will show them as successful regents of their peoples' trust.

In particular, this agreement shows a departure from the mold of recent Japanese prime ministers. Abe shows himself a Japanese minister intent on transformation, as opposed to someone who merely holds to the traditional behaviors about the past.

The United States should continue to support active leadership by our regional allies for the sake of regional harmony. It promotes international security as well as the space needed for trade, exchange, transfer, and all manner of human interrelations to continue in the positive sense. The comfort women accord signals an improvement in Korean-Japanese relations and a positive event for the American national interest.