Countering China with a new alliance between Japan and South Korea

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South Korea and Japan have a mutual antipathy that goes back decades, linked to Japan’s brutal colonial rule of Korea from 1910-1945 as well as long-simmering territorial disputes in the East China Sea. That has fueled such acrimony in South Korea that until relatively recently public opinion polls in the country have rated Japanese leaders only slightly more popular than North Korea’s.

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Article Contents

The move

Biden devoted significant diplomatic capital to courting both Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol with an eye to easing that mutual hostility. Those efforts allowed Biden to broker the first-ever trilateral summit between the three countries aimed at unifying the two countries in an alliance implicitly aimed at countering China’s rising diplomatic, economic and military power in the Indo-Pacific.

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The impact

Japan and South Korea committed to allying against China using a language of cooperation that would have been impossible just two years ago. The two countries have aligned their foreign policies and agreed to a significant expansion of bilateral security cooperation to offset China’s perceived regional threat. The two countries have also committed to defense spending increases aimed at addressing Beijing’s dramatic expansion of its military forces.

The upshot

Biden’s diplomacy has — for now at least — created a narrative for regional support for his “rules-based international order” that has persuaded two key allies that border China to transition from reflexive hostility to (fragile) harmony.



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