Without a doubt, Japan’s relations with South Korea are at one of the lowest points in the period since the normalization of relations in 1965. For some time now, officials in Tokyo have found the relationship with Seoul frustrating and difficult. Public opinion seems to be following. In annual binational polling by Genron NPO, 23% more Japanese see the bilateral relationship negatively compared with 2018.1 Japanese business executives are pessimistic about their ability to turn around this recent deterioration.2 Even the military, long careful to maintain close ties with counterparts in South Korea, seem to have succumbed to the negative sentiments and claim a loss of trust in the US ally most necessary to Japan’s defense.3 

In Tokyo, today’s crisis is often attributed to the leadership in Seoul. Conservatives in Japan have long been suspicious of progressives in South Korea, seeing them as sympathizers to the North Korean regime and easily motivated by anti-Japanese sentiment. But even more centrist or progressive experts on the Japan-South Korean relationship see evidence of competing nationalisms, between a conservative prime minister in Tokyo and a progressive president in Seoul.4 To be sure, the high point of the 1998 summit between Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo and President Kim Dae-jung, not withstanding, Japanese leaders have had their share of difficulties with South Korea’s progressives.5 President Roh Moo-hyun was seen as no friend of Japan, and expectations of President Moon Jae-in, who worked in the Roh government, were colored by that experience. Yet ideology alone is insufficient to explain the tensions. Conservative presidents in Seoul have also had their difficulties with Japan.6

Japan-South Korean relations have gone through these downward slides in the past, and this episode may be just another in what has become a recurring pattern of acrimony in the relationship. It may not even be the worst, but what distinguishes today’s diplomatic rupture is the backdrop of two geostrategic currents. The first and most daunting from Tokyo’s point of view is the rise of Chinese power and influence.7 The second factor may still be anticipated but could be more dangerous for Tokyo – and for Seoul. US policymakers, most conspicuously the president, may be reevaluating the value of these alliances.8

Over the past year, two issues have rankled Tokyo. The first, and by far most penetrating, is the continued dissatisfaction in South Korea with compensation for Japan’s colonial and wartime behavior. The second was the tensions between Japanese and South Korean military forces and the resulting loss of trust in allied security cooperation. Unresolved historical grievances spilled over into the close economic relationship between Seoul and Tokyo, which then reverberated in the military cooperation that underpinned the US-Japan-ROK trilateral security ties. The escalation accelerated through 2019 and began to attract considerable attention. The Trump administration openly admonished Seoul for cancelling a military information-sharing agreement with Tokyo, due to expire on November 22.9 Russia and China in a joint air patrol took advantage of the tensions to probe South Korean defenses over islands claimed by both Japan and South Korea. 

Only now are there signs that both capitals want to slow things down to allow for a more careful diplomatic response. Three seemingly discrete policy challenges are embedded in the bilateral feud, with a tit-for-tat dynamic of retaliation that seemed impervious to negotiation. The visit of Premier Lee Nak-yon to Japan for the enthronement of the Japanese emperor and empress brought some hope that a summit between Moon and Abe may be in the offing before year’s end.10 But the deeper question is whether this year of antagonism will lead Seoul and Tokyo to seek alternative partners as Asia’s geopolitics evolve. 

Tokyo’s view of the Supreme Court rulings

The question of Japanese responsibility for wartime behavior continues to plague bilateral relations, and the court cases brought to the South Korean courts by individuals who were mobilized for forced labor in Japanese companies during World War II resulted in the initial judgment by the Supreme Court on October 30, 2018.11 The judgment ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corporation to compensate four individuals 100 million won each for forced labor during the war. The reaction in Japan was immediate. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo was much more direct, stating that the judgment was “unthinkable” given that Japan and South Korea had reached a complete and final resolution in the Japan-South Korea claims agreement attendant to their normalization treaty in 1965. He stated that the Japanese government would respond accordingly, but also noted that one of Japan’s options was to take South Korea to the International Court of Justice.12 Foreign Minister Kono Taro was more specific, saying “the Japanese government is not responsible for individual compensation, as it had already agreed that Japan handed over money designated for forced laborers to the South Korean government in the form of economic cooperation funds. He concluded that it was the Korean government that should shoulder the responsibility and pay compensation.”13

Private sector responses echoed the government statements. Nippon Steel, the company ordered by the court to pay compensation, issued its own statement to the effect that it would act according to the Japanese government’s guidance.14 Several days later, Nikkei reported Nippon Steel found the court decision “extremely regrettable,“ echoing the prime minister’s view that this issue of compensation for forced labor had already been handled under the Japan-Korea claims agreement, and the company expected the two governments to handle negotiations on this basis.”15 Japan’s leading business organization, Keidanren, noted its worry “about the damage to good economic relations between the two countries.”16 Even Nukaga Fukushiro, head of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarian’s Association, a longstanding conduit for easing bilateral tensions among politicians from both countries, noted that the South Korean government had already agreed that this issue had been settled in 1965.17 

A month later, another setback emerged. On November 21, the South Korean government dissolved the foundation for survivors of the Japanese wartime “comfort women” system.  Foundation funds had been provided by the Japanese government as part of the 2015 agreement.18 Conservatives, who had opposed Abe’s decision to reach an agreement with President Park Geun-hye, felt vindicated in their criticism of Abe for compromising with Seoul. Even those in Japan most sympathetic to the need for historical reconciliation were critical of Seoul’s decision. An Asahi Shimbun editorial, for example, asked why the Moon government would undermine the very core of  the 2015  Japan-ROK agreement designed to help those women who had suffered, describing the Blue House as lacking in wisdom and consideration (kenryo).19Aware of the rising anger in Japan and South Korea over the inability to resolve differences over the past, the legislators from both countries in the Japan-Korea Parliamentarian’s Association came together to bridge the differences, recognizing both the “worry” in Japan about the relationship as a result of the forced labor ruling, and the South Korean desire for a “future oriented relationship based on a correct understanding of history.” Both sides emphasized the need for cooperation on North Korea.20

The two governments fundamentally disagreed on how to move forward. Initially, the Abe cabinet intimated that it would take the case to the International Court of Justice, claiming that the South Korean government had violated the 1965 treaty and, therefore, international law. But by early January, the Japanese government instead requested that the South Korean government begin bilateral negotiations within 30 days. In response, Seoul called for Japanese restraint, saying it would “consider carefully” Japan’s proposal for negotiations.21  

Japanese media reported Moon’s first public statement on the Supreme Court ruling the following day, that “Japan should be modest in the face of history,” followed by his view that as a developed nation, the South Korean government must respect the separation of powers between the executive and judiciary branches of government.22 Moon made no mention of the 1965 treaty nor did he respond to Japan’s request for consultations. A week later the South Korean foreign minister’s comments were also reported in Japan. Asahi noted that, similar to the president, Kang asserted the need to “respect the judiciary,” but added that the Nippon Steel case could not be considered under international law.23 Sankei reported that Seoul would hold an international conference on the “comfort women” issue.24 On January 18, plaintiffs in another case requested negotiations with Mitsubishi Heavy Industry.25

The foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea did agree to meet, first in Switzerland on January 23 and again in Germany on February 15. As diplomacy was beginning, however, events in Seoul deepened Japanese concern. On January 24, the former South Korean Supreme Court chief justice, Yang Sung-tae, was arrested for abuse of authority, and he was accused of impeding the forced labor compensation cases during Park Geun-hye’s presidency. In early February, the speaker of the National Assembly, Moon Hee-sang, suggested publicly that the Japanese emperor should apologize to the “comfort women,” a statement that outraged Japanese conservatives. At his second meeting with Kang, Kono lodged a protest against Moon’s remark.26

Beyond the diplomacy, the lawyers for the plaintiffs in the forced labor cases sought to persuade Japanese companies to pay compensation. In a visit to Tokyo, they announced on February 15 plans to sell Nippon Steel assets within the month, after Nippon Steel refused a meeting with them.27 A week later, Korean activists announced that they planned to erect a statue of Korean force laborers on the 100th anniversary of the March 1 Movement. In response, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Suga Yoshihide, noted that both the liquidation of Japanese company assets and the statue would be “very serious.”28 

Throughout the spring, Japanese media continued to follow news from South Korea about progress in local courts; the case against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and other lawsuits filed against Japanese companies continued. While Moon avoided any mention of the “comfort women” or of the forced labor cases during the March 1 commemoration, he called for “rooting out pro-Japanese remnants,” a language that confirmed to his critics in Tokyo that he was hostile to Japan.

Japanese public opinion soured through the late spring as diplomacy failed to temper the impact of the court cases. Abe called on Moon to deal with the difficult issue “properly,” and in May the Japanese government requested the establishment of an arbitration committee under the provisions of the 1965 treaty.29 A US mediation offer was reported, but ultimately, South Korea did not want to pursue arbitration.30 In a public opinion pool conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun, reported on June 10, 74% of respondents claimed they distrusted South Korea.31

As the G20 meeting in Osaka loomed, there seemed to be signs that South Korea was softening its position. The speaker of the National Assembly apologized publicly for asking the Emperor to apologize, and the Moon government proposed that Japanese and Korean companies might offer “consolation money” to the forced labor victims, an idea that had emerged from quiet consultations among corporate leaders. Yet there were no talks between the two governments at the international meeting, suggesting that Japanese officials were not impressed.  

The Supreme Court decisions, and the prospect of more cases emerging in the South Korea courts, engendered deep antipathy in Tokyo. Japanese media kept a close eye on the relationship. Diplomatic effort to mitigate the impact of the rulings was ineffectual and seemed half-hearted. Tokyo wanted a statement of support for the terms of the 1965 treaty whereas Seoul claimed it could not influence the South Korea judiciary. Civil society activism in South Korea continued; although some Japanese and South Korean politicians sought to sooth the growing antagonism, others capitalized on the opportunity to fan the flames of discord. On February 28, the plaintiffs in the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries case suggested they would ask that patents by the company in Korea be rescinded.32 On March 25, a local court ordered confiscation of the assets of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, a ripple effect that the Japanese government had feared. There were some signs of pushback, however. In April, Sankei reported that the City of Busan had removed a statue of a forced laborer placed in a park in front of the Japanese consulate.33

Pressure from within the Liberal Democratic Party on Abe was growing to act decisively to retaliate against the threatened expropriation of Japanese corporate assets in the forced labor cases.34 May brought even more frustration for the Abe cabinet. Kang Kyung-wha stated that her government would not intervene in the expropriation of assets of Japanese companies ordered by the Supreme Court.35 Another decision, this time by the World Trade Organization (WTO), added fueled to the fire. In 2018, the WTO had ruled in Japan’s favor on a case brought by South Korea challenging the oversight and safety inspection of exports from Fukushima prefecture. On April 13 this year, however, on appeal, the WTO upheld the import curbs imposed by South Korea on Japanese seafood because of fears of radiation exposure after the nuclear disaster.36 While the ruling was on a technical rendering of WTO rules, the appeal’s decision to overturn the earlier verdict was a serious setback for Tokyo, which had battled global concerns over its food exports since the 2011 disaster.

The day after the G20, Japan surprised everyone by announcing it was considering removing South Korea from a preferential “white list” for exports of semiconductor materials. Sankei’s headlines read, “South Korea’s Lack of Movement by G-20 results in Strong Measures of Imposing Export Controls.”37 Equally important as the back and forth between governments was the fact that business leaders had stepped back from their traditional role of advocating the benefits of cooperation. Fear of further expropriation of Japanese assets loomed.

Military dissonance and trilateral security cooperation

Military operations between the Japanese and Korean armed forces are typically a part of trilateral exercises organized by the United States. Given their proximity and complementary operational responsibilities in case of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula, the air forces of Japan and South Korea have more experience training together, often in the United States. Japanese and South Korean navies do not have a deep history of security cooperation, yet coast guard cooperation is more common in the maritime domain, and interaction in fisheries patrols and other types of maritime law enforcement are far less fraught. Critical to US efforts to bring Tokyo and Seoul into closer military cooperation in response to the missile threat from North Korea was an information sharing agreement, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which allowed the two US allies to share information directly rather than via the United States.38

In 2017, when North Korea launched missiles in repeated salvos in the direction of Japan, the two alliances became synchronized in unprecedented ways. Much of the coordination among the US, Japanese, and South Korean militaries revealed an effort to demonstrate that Seoul and Tokyo viewed the threat from Pyongyang similarly and were willing to work together militarily in case of a conflict. For example, the two air forces worked to escort US bombers when they entered the region for deployment to South Korea. When missile tests of North Korea’s potential ICBM brought the North Korean missiles over Japanese airspace, the two alliances conducted simultaneous exercises designed to demonstrate how they might operate to counter a missile threat in a conflict.

As the political tensions over the Supreme Court decisions were rising in December 20, 2018, the South Korean Navy and Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces encountered each other in the East China Sea. The South Korean forces were conducting a maritime search and rescue mission, while the MSDF P-1 aircraft was engaged in surveillance. As described by the Minister of Defense, Iwaya Takeshi, the South Korean vessel locked on the Japanese military aircraft with its fire control radar, an “extremely dangerous act.”39 But the dynamics of the incident were disputed by Seoul. When foreign ministers met, they could not agree on the facts, Japan released an audio and video account of the incident.40 In Tokyo, it was widely assumed that the South Korean government was not being forthright about what had actually happened.  

Months later, Japanese and South Korean militaries were surprised by a Russian air force intrusion over the airspace of the Takeshima/Dokdo Islands, claimed by both nations.41  The Russian surveillance aircraft had been part of a joint air patrol between China and Russia and had violated the territorial airspace over the disputed islands twice. Both Japanese and South Korea air forces responded. The South Korean air force fired hundreds of warning shots by the Russian aircraft to compel it to leave. Moscow initially denied it had happened. Japan’s Air Self Defense Force (ASDF) did not enter the South Korean Air Defense Identification zone, but the next day the Japanese government confirmed the South Korean account of the incident,42 which was widely seen as an attempt by Russia and China to exploit the growing tensions between Seoul and Tokyo. 

Seoul’s announcement a month later, on August 23, that it would not renew the GSOMIA agreement with Japan when it expired on November 22 confirmed the loss of trust between the two governments. In the US the assistant secretary of defense for East Asia Randy Schriver openly expressed the Trump administration’s “disappointment,” criticizing the South Korean government for undermining trilateral readiness in Northeast Asia.43 Kono in an op-ed in Bloomberg argued that the Japan-ROK difficulties “boil down to an issue of trust.”44 In outlining the Japanese case, Kono argued that the Japanese response to the Supreme Court rulings was not related to Japan’s decision on export restrictions, and similarly, South Korea should not have conflated differences on export restrictions with the military information sharing agreement: “I must say this decision reflects a total misapprehension of the security situation in Northeast Asia.”  Reflecting the deterioration of relations between the two navies, Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force did not extend an invitation to its fleet review scheduled for October 2019.45 The Chinese navy, the PLAN, however, was invited to attend, for the first time in eight years.

The spillover to trade

Without a doubt, the Abe cabinet’s anger towards the Moon government’s refusal to acknowledge that the Supreme Court cases ran counter to the 1965 Basic Treaty bled over into economic ties. Reflecting the deepening concerns over the official antagonism, Nikkei argued for restraint in using economic means to retaliate against the court cases. Abe cited security concerns for limiting export of these highly sought-after materials, and claimed it was not a violation of WTO rules.46 On July 12, Japanese and South Korean government officials met to discus the export restrictions, with Japanese officials, like Kono, pointing out that the South Koreans had refused to come to the table to discuss Japanese concerns for some time.

But as this conversation on trade restrictions progressed, the stakes on the far more sensitive South Korean court rulings were growing. In mid-July, Suga once more called on South Korea to enter into arbitration on the forced labor issued, and Kono issued a formal statement of the government position on the legality of the court rulings.47

By August the linkage between the court cases and the export restrictions seemed more obvious. On August 7, METI indicated that South Korea would be taken off the preferential partner list for trade on August 28. Already the impact of the Japan-ROK dispute on semiconductor trade was being seen as a considerable setback to the global supply chain. Japan is a leading supplier of key semiconductor manufacturing materials to South Korean firms, including hydrogen fluoride, fluorinated polyimides, and photoresist/resist, as well as their “relevant technologies.48 While the Japanese government was not saying that it would end trade, South Korean companies worried that further exacerbation of political tensions could make them vulnerable to future disruptions. Both Japanese and Korean companies saw the politics of the Japan-ROK dispute as threatening their ability to operate safely in each other’s markets.

Between METI’s announcement and the date of implementing the decision was South Korea’s National Liberation Day. The following week Kyodo News reported that the vice ministers of foreign affairs would meet in Guam to discuss the forced labor issue.49 Moon’s speech on August 15 was seen as restrained, and Japanese media reported that the Abe cabinet was looking for signs of a shift in the South Korean position.50 On August 23, however, the South Korean government announced its intention to withdraw from the military information sharing agreement, GSOMIA.51 

The Abe cabinet made the next move, on August 28, moving forward with taking South Korea off of its preferential treatment on export controls. Korea’s prime minister suggested that if Japan rescinded its decision on trade, South Korea could renew the GSOMIA agreement. Nukaga rejected that idea, saying that this sort of trade-off “is not a solution to the root cause of the problem” between the two countries.52 On September 4, Abe made it clear that the “settlement of the forced labor issue is the top priority.”53  

The economic impact of the growing dispute went beyond the exclusion of South Korea from the “white list” of preferential partners for exports, however. The boycott of Japanese goods had a broad impact on Japanese companies operating in and exporting goods to South Korea. Two South Korean cities (Seoul and Busan) also designated 284 Japanese companies as “companies associated with war crimes,” pledging not to purchase from them.54 Furthermore, the numbers of South Korea tourists traveling to Japan slowed considerably, with reports in September of a 60% drop.55 South Korea began to pursue its own economic sanctions on Japan. On August 12, the Moon government announced it would impose greater export controls on trade with Japanese companies56 and, on September 16, initiated a suit against Japan in the WTO for its semiconductor export controls.57 

The UN General Assembly meeting in New York provided an opportunity for diplomatic movement. In his address to the General Assembly, Moon did not mention Japan but urged “safeguarding the values of free and fair trade upon the foundation of an earnest self-reflection on past history.”58 Japan’s new foreign minister Motegi Toshimitsu met with Kang, where he emphasized the need for “future-oriented Japan-Korea relations.”59

By then, North Korean behavior had once more reminded Tokyo and Seoul of their shared security concerns and prompted some signs that diplomatic channels may open. A test of a new missile, launched from a platform underwater, on October 2 demonstrated Pyongyang’s increasing progress on developing a viable SLBM.60 The missile landed within Japan’s EEZ.  On October 3, the minister of defense of South Korea, Jeong Kyeong-doo, invoked GSOMIA, asking the Japanese Minister of Defense for information.61 While trade tensions are being adjudicated at the WTO, there are some signs of movement among leaders in Seoul and Tokyo. Premier Lee attended the imperial enthronement ceremony for Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, reportedly carrying a personal letter to Japan’s prime minister from Moon. 

Asia’s shifts and unity among US allies

Tokyo and Seoul seem to have slowed the erosion of their relationship, but it is far from certain that they will be able to take steps to improve ties. The damage of the past year has been significant. Lee had only a short meeting with Abe, and there is little indication of new diplomatic overtures.62 Outside of Japan, there is no shortage of ideas about what is needed, especially from the United States. Yet there is very little advocacy within Japan for mending fences. Talk of “Korea fatigue” has been replaced by a more determined view that there is far more Japan could do to retaliate should the assets of Japanese companies continue to be expropriated. The Abe cabinet is firm in its position that the 1965 Basic Treaty provided for just such a scenario as evident in contemporary claims being put forward in South Korean courts, and it is the South Korean government that is responsible for compensating South Koreans.

Beyond this, however, there is a growing sense in Tokyo that this episode of contention will not be relieved under the Moon government. Abe himself will be replaced in 2021, unless there is an election prior to the Olympics in 2020. Rumors of a general election this fall seem to have evaporated, but the prime minster’s desire for constitutional revision may not yet be tempered. The Moon government is under increasing domestic pressure at home, leading many Japanese politicians to think they can wait for the next president.

Yet the uncertainty in Asia remains. As Trump struggles with an impeachment inquiry, worry about how this will affect his diplomacy with North Korea abound in both Seoul and Tokyo.  Kim Jong-un advertises this year’s end as the deadline for his talks with Trump, and recent missile tests have demonstrated a capacity for regional threat that Tokyo cannot ignore. A return to the tensions of 2017 during the year of a US presidential election does not bode well for either ally. Unlike in previous moments of Japan-ROK tension, however, the US may be too absorbed with its own politics to help. 

In Tokyo, Abe may believe he must wait Moon out. There is little to no support within the LDP for compromise on the Supreme Court rulings. Other Japanese political parties are also disinterested in compromise with South Korea on the 1965 Basic Treaty.  Japanese public opinion has hardened considerably. Furthermore, with the two groups most likely to help overcome tensions between governments – business and the SDF – now fully embroiled in the crisis, de-escalation now rests solely on the shoulders of the two political leaders. The Abe cabinet seems aware of the security risk of prolonged friction, but until some progress is made on the forced labor issue that will protect Japanese companies from further loss of assets, Tokyo will likely internalize that risk. 

1. In 2019, 63.3% of Japanese see the relationship with South Korea as bad, a marked increase from 2018. 66.1% of respondents in South Korea see the relationship with Japan as bad, but the increase from 2018 seems to be less sensitive to government tensions. For a full exploration of 2019 polling, see http://www.genron-npo.net/en/opinion_polls/archives/5490.html.

2. The annual meeting between prominent Japanese and Korean business leaders had to be postponed in May due to the political tensions. When executives finally met in September, both sides bemoaned the difficulties. See Iori Kawate, “Business leaders seek economic bridge over Japan-South Korea rift,” Nikkei Asian Review, September 24, 2019, https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Japan-South-Korea-rift/Business-leaders-seek-economic-bridge-over-Japan-South-Korea-rift

3. https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2019/09/7513c3a8abde-japan-treats-s-korea-coldly-in-annual-defense-report.html; for the section on security cooperation in the 2019 White Paper of the Minister of Defense, see https://www.mod.go.jp/e/publ/w_paper/pdf/2019/DOJ2019_3-3-1.pdf

4. Yoshihide Soeya, “How Ideological Differences Have Driven a Downward Spiral,” Global Asia, Vol. 14, No. 3 (September 2019).

5. Japan’s progressive political parties have had similar difficulties, and members of the Democratic Party of Japan also drew the ire of South Koreans for their statements on the colonial era. Then cabinet member Edano Yukio, for example on the anniversary of the annexation of Korea by Japan in 2010, was criticized for saying the Japanese invasion and colonization of China and Korea were “historically inevitable” and Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko also drew criticism for his position on Japanese “war criminals.”

6. Lee Myung-bak confronted Japan over the sovereignty of Dokdo (Takeshima for the Japanese), and was the first president to visit the islands while in office. Similarly, Park Geun-hye took issue with Japan, arguing early in her time in office that Northeast Asian cooperation depended on a “correct sense of history.”

7. The rise in China’s military power was identified as the most prominent challenge in Japan’s new ten-year defense plan released on December 18, 2018. See the National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2019 and beyond December 18, 2018. See the English version at http://www.cas.go.jp/jp/siryou/pdf/2019boueikeikaku_e.pdf

8. . Trump has repeatedly noted the “unfairness” of the NATO alliance and has more recently raised questions about the lack of reciprocity in the U.S.-Japan alliance. See, for example, his comments prior to visiting Japan for the G20 in June 2019, in Tucker Higgins, “Trump questions Japan defense pact, says if US is attacked, ‘they can watch on a Sony television’,” CNBC, June 26, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/06/26/trump-questions-whether-postwar-defense-agreement-with-japan-is-fair.html.

9. Anthony Kuhn, “U.S. Criticizes South Korea After Seoul Scraps Intelligence-Sharing Pact With Tokyo,” NPR, August 30, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/08/30/755733522/u-s-criticizes-south-korea-after-seoul-scraps-intelligence-sharing-pact-with-tok

10. Reiji Yoshida, “South Korea PM may deliver letter from Moon to Abe on visit for Japan enthronement ceremony,” The Japan Times, October 19, 2019, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/10/18/national/south-korea-lee-nak-yon-moon-letter-abe/#.

11. Choe Sang-hun an Rick Gladstone, “How a World War II-Era Reparations Case Is Roiling Asia,” The New York Times, October 30, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/30/world/asia/south-korea-japan-compensation-world-war-two.html

12. Reuters, October 31, 2019, https://jp.reuters.com/article/idJP2018110101001265

13. Mainichi, November 3, 2018, https://mainichi.jp/articles/20181104/k00/00m/030/071000c

14. See https://www.nipponsteel.com/ir/pdf/nssmc_jp_br_2018_all.pdf;

15. Nikkei, November 2, 2018, https://www.nikkei.com/article/DGXMZO37291690S8A101C1000000/

16. Sankei, March 11, 2019, https://www.sankei.com/economy/news/190311/ecn1903110013-n1.html

17. Asahi, October 23, 2019, https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASMBR31XMMBRUTFK003.html

18. For the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement on the 2015 agreement, see  https://www.mofa.go.jp/a_o/na/kr/page4e_000364.html. Moon Jae-in had criticized the agreement, see Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin, “South Korea says ‘comfort women’ deal flawed, but Japan warns against change,” Reuters, December 27, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-japan-comfortwomen/south-korea-says-comfort-women-deal-flawed-but-japan-warns-against-change-idUSKBN1EM056

19. Asahi, November 22, 2018, https://www.asahi.com/articles/DA3S13779541.html

20. Sankei, July 11, 2015, https://www.sankei.com/politics/news/150711/plt1507110009-n1.html

21. See Sankei, January 13, 2019,  https://www.sankei.com/world/news/190113/wor1901130014-n1.html;  Jiji Press, January 9, 2019,  https://www.jiji.com/jc/article?k=2019010901148&g=pol

22. Mainichi, January 10, 2019, https://mainichi.jp/articles/20190110/dde/001/030/050000c

23. See Asahi, January 17, 2019, https://www.asahi.com/articles/DA3S13851878.html and Asahi, January 17, 2019, https://www.asahi.com/articles/DA3S13851853.html

24. Sankei, January 16, 2019, https://www.sankei.com/world/news/190116/wor1901160013-n1.html

25. Jiji Press, January 11, 2019, https://www.jiji.com/jc/article?k=2019011800965&g=eco

26. Coverage of the Switzerland meeting can be found in Asahi and Tokyo Shimbun. See Asahi, January 24, 2019, https://www.asahi.com/articles/DA3S13862066.html; “日韓外相会談要旨” Tokyo Yomiuri Shimbun, January 24, 2019. Coverage of the meeting in Germany can be found in Sankei and Jiji PressSee “日韓外相会談要旨,” Sankei Shimbun, February 16, 2019, https://www.jiji.com/jc/article?k=2019021501116&g=pol.

27. Yahoo Japan, February 15, 2019, https://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20190215-00000124-kyodonews-soci; Jiji Press, February 15, 2019, https://www.jiji.com/jc/article?k=2019021501128&g=pol

28. Jiji Press, February 21, 2019, https://www.jiji.com/jc/article?k=2019022101001&g=pol

29. Mainichi, May 22, 2019, https://mainichi.jp/articles/20190522/ddm/012/010/113000c

30. Yomiuri, May 24, 2019, https://www.yomiuri.co.jp/world/20190524-OYT1T50016/; Kyodo, May 24, 2019, https://this.kiji.is/504393717110015073

31. Yomiuri, June 10, 2019, https://www.yomiuri.co.jp/election/yoron-chosa/20190610-OYT1T50150/

32. Jiji Press, February 28, 2019, https://www.jiji.com/jc/article?k=2019022800814&g=int

33. Sankei, April 12, 2019, https://www.sankei.com/world/news/190412/wor1904120027-n1.html

34. Sankei, April 6, 2019, https://special.sankei.com/a/politics/article/20190406/0001.html

35. Jiji Press, May 2, 2019, https://www.jiji.com/jc/article?k=2019050200335&g=int

36. Mainichi, April 13, 2019, https://mainichi.jp/articles/20190413/ddm/005/070/031000c; “South Korea WTO appeal succeeds in Japanese Fukushima food dispute,” Reuters, April 11, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-southkorea-wto/south-korea-wto-appeal-succeeds-in-japanese-fukushima-food-dispute-idUSKCN1RN24X

37. “動かぬ韓国に強い措置 輸出規制G20までに対策示されず,” Sankei Shimbun, June 30, 2019.

38. The agreement was welcomed by the United States. See United States Forces Korea, https://www.usfk.mil/Media/News/Article/1012882/carter-welcomes-signing-of-japan-south-korea-security-agreement/

39. Masaya Kato and Yosuke Onchi, “Japan accuses South Korea of locking radar on patrol plane,” Nikkei Asian Review, December 21, 2018, https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-relations/Japan-accuses-South-Korea-of-locking-radar-on-patrol-plane

40. The Japanese Ministry of Defense noted that audio in the video had been redacted so as not to reveal sensitive information. See Tomohiro Osaki, “Japan discloses footage of radar lock-on by South Korean warship,” The Japan Times, December 28, 2018,  https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/12/28/national/japan-disclose-footage-radar-lock-south-korean-warship/#.XbZLwkVKgU0

41. Choe Sang-hun, “South Korean Jets Fire Warning Shots Toward Russian Military Plane,” The New York Times, July 23, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/23/world/asia/south-korean-warning-shots-russia-planes.html?auth=login-email&login=email

42. Masaya Kato and Yosuke Onchi, “Japan accuses South Korea of locking radar on patrol plane.”

43. Speech by Assistant Secretary for East Asia, Department of Defense, Randy Schriver at CSIS, “The Importance of U.S.-Japan-ROK Trilateral Defense Cooperation,” https://www.csis.org/analysis/importance-us-japan-korea-trilateral-defense-cooperation

44. Kono Taro, “The Real Issue Between Japan and Korea Is Trust,” Bloomberg, September 3, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-09-03/japan-south-korea-trade-spat-boils-down-to-trust

45. Hyonhee Shin and Tim Kelly, “Denied invite, South Korea will miss Japanese naval fleet review,” Reuters, September 23, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-japan-fleetreview/denied-invite-south-korea-will-miss-japanese-naval-fleet-review-idUSKBN1W90BJ

46. Nikkei, July 3, 2019, https://www.nikkei.com/article/DGXMZO46896410T00C19A7000000/

47. The foreign minister’s statement, entitled “Failure of the Republic of Korea to comply with obligations regarding arbitration under the Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation between Japan and the Republic of Korea,” laid out the case for arbitration and laid the blame for deterioration of relations on the Moon Jae-in government. Statement available at:   https://www.mofa.go.jp/press/release/press4e_002553.html

48. For an in-depth assessment of Japan-ROK trade tensions on the global supply chain for semiconductors, see Samuel M. Goodman, Dan Kim, and John VerWey, “The South Korea-Japan Trade Dispute in Context: Semiconductor manufacturing, Chemicals, and Concentrated Supply Chains,” USITC Office of Industries, Working Paper ID-062, October 2019.

49. Kyodo, August 14, 2019, https://this.kiji.is/534189420990383201

50. Jiji Press, August 15, 2019, https://www.jiji.com/jc/article?k=2019081500920&g=pol;

51. Jiji Press, August 23, 2019, https://www.jiji.com/jc/article?k=2019082300823&g=int

52. Nikkei, August 28, 2019,  https://www.nikkei.com/article/DGXMZO49087680Y9A820C1EAF000/

53. Nikkei, September 3, 2019, https://www.nikkei.com/article/DGXMZO49351750T00C19A9PP8000/

54. Mainichi, September 7, 2019, https://mainichi.jp/articles/20190907/ddm/012/030/063000c

55. “Number of South Korean visitors to Japan plunges nearly 60% in September,” The Japan Times, October 17, 2019, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/10/17/national/south-korean-visitors-japan-plunges-nearly-60-september/#.XbZSQEVKgU0

56. Alexandra Ma, “South Korea created a new category of country specifically to punish Japan in their escalating trade war,” Business Insider, August 12, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/south-korea-japan-trade-war-new-trade-category-2019-8

57. Edward White, Robbin Harding, and Kang Buseong, “South Korea files WTO complaint over Japan trade restrictions,” Financial Times, September 10, 2019, https://www.ft.com/content/ea993216-d42d-11e9-8367-807ebd53ab77

58. Yonhap News Agency, September 25, 2019,  https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20190924010500315

59. Nikkei, September 27, 2019, https://www.nikkei.com/article/DGXMZO50277530X20C19A9000000/

60. Michael Elleman, “North Korea’s New Pukguksong-3 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile,” 38 North, October 3, 2019,  https://www.38north.org/2019/10/melleman100319/

61. NHK News, October 2, 2019, https://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/html/20191002/k10012109001000.html

62. Alastair Gale, “Japan-South Korea Talks Fail to Thaw Diplomatic Deep Freeze,” The Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/japan-south-korea-talks-fail-to-thaw-diplomatic-deep-freeze-11571911132