In 2019, Japan imposed export restrictions on three key materials used in the production of semiconductors, a move that was seen as retaliation for a South Korean court’s ruling that Japanese companies must compensate Korean forced laborers from World War II. The dispute has had a significant impact on the technology industry, as South Korean companies are major players in the global semiconductor market.
One of the main sources of tension between South Korea and Japan is the legacy of Japan’s colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945, besides a territorial dispute over the Dokdo/Takeshima Islands in the Sea of Japan and in recent years, trade had also emerged as a point of contention.
Both market-oriented democracies worked together on issues such as North Korea’s nuclear programme and regional security, so renewed relations come as music to the US’ ears as their two closest allies in Asia end a decade-long feud and cooperation on security can make a comeback.
Despite the extreme tension to the US’s hopeful tripartite cooperation in the form of South Korea – U.S. and Japan-U.S. alliance, perhaps surprisingly, the US did not attempt to mediate between centuries’ old friends and foes.
At the March summit, Seoul and Tokyo decided to mark their new cooperation in economic security in technology from Artificial intelligence to semiconductors, or batteries. An economic security that is arguably central to national security. Including for the United States, grappling with its own security issues and joined by a common concern that none know better than Japan and South Korea.
As South-South Cooperation pursues its upward trend the world over, and without interference from the so-called “North”, new forms of cooperation are being written.
South Korea’s President Yoon prepares his visit to Washington this week where the US and South Korea will celebrate their defence mutual treaty’s 70th anniversary at a state dinner at the White House. As security concerns bring old alliances back together, this week will be important to see if the United States will play a more active mediator role or secure their traditional trilateral security partnership.