Impossible Allies? When History and Security Collide: South Korea—Japan Relations in Context
To what degree are historical animosities regarding another country relevant for foreign policy in the face of changes in the security environment? This paper seeks to answer this question in the context of Korea–Japan relations. While pundits have pointed to the Korean public’s negative views of Japan—rooted in the colonial experience—as the explanation for the lack of cooperation between Japan and Korea in the security field, this paper argues changes in the level of common external threat can shift the public’s priorities from perceived historical injustices toward the needs of security. Surveys from the period when the security environment was shifting markedly—the final years of the Cold War (1986–1990)—reveal that public opinion regarding Japan relative to other powers in the region began to deteriorate only after the security environment improved, pointing to a limit to the extent that “history” trumps security.
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