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Relations between Japan and South Korea after World War II have ranged from cool to toxic. Recently, South Korean President Park Geun-hye refused to plan a summit with her Japanese counterpart unless Tokyo made concessions on their historical disputes. An agreement in December to share military intelligence (but only indirectly, via the United States) merely revealed their reluctance, rather than eagerness, to work together. The tension between these two countries, which seem to have so much to gain from closer ties, puzzles many observers and frustrates Washington as it seeks to foster closer trilateral cooperation.
Many observers blame history. As The New York Times editorialized in 2012, “Old animosities are still making it difficult for South Korea and Japan to establish a reliably productive relationship.” But this oft-heard claim is unsatisfying: It begs the question as to why at other times in the postwar era, Tokyo and Seoul were able to