Japan and South Korea Can’t Get Along

Why America Needs to Help Its Allies Mend Fences

Japanese President Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the G-20 leaders' summit in Osaka, June 2019 Kim Kyung Hoon / Reuters

Since late last year, a conflict has been steadily building between two of the United States’ closest Asian allies. Last fall, the South Korean Supreme Court ruled in favor of a dozen plaintiffs seeking compensation from Japanese firms that used forced Korean labor during World War II. Relations between the two countries have been deteriorating ever since. Japan is now poised to remove South Korea from its “white list” of trusted countries for trade in sensitive materials—a decision that would hurt both countries’ economies and disrupt global supply chains in the high-tech sector. South Korea, meanwhile, is threatening to withdraw from an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan that facilitates security cooperation between these two key U.S. allies.

Seoul and Tokyo have quarreled in the past, but their current feud has serious implications for U.S. interests in Asia. Left unresolved, tension between Japan and South Korea could not only

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