Japan-Korea Relations: North Korean Leadership Change Overshadows All

David C. Kang, Jiun Bang
Content Type
Journal Article
Comparative Connections
Issue Number
Publication Date
September 2011
Center for Strategic and International Studies
The last four months of 2011 were dominated by two leadership changes – the mid-December death of Kim Jong Il and the election of Noda Yoshihiko in September. Kim's death is a watershed event that could mean changes in DPRK policies with repercussions around the region. South Korea and Japan reacted cautiously to the news of Kim's death and the rise of his son, Kim Jong Un, as the new leader of North Korea. Beyond this event, however, Korea-Japan relations showed little change. Economic relations between South Korea and Japan continue to move slowly forward, even as they remain firmly stuck arguing the same issues that have aggravated diplomatic relations for decades. North Korea-Japan relations also showed little change as both sides repeated the usual accusations, but neither showed any inclination to change. Meanwhile, there were three main trends in relations. First, external forces drove state behavior as evidenced by the almost domino-like efforts at free trade agreements. Second, there was growing recognition of the high domestic political costs associated with non-pliable issues such as the comfort women/sex slaves. Third, there was a realization that change could mean opportunity as Seoul and Tokyo contemplate the post-Kim Jong Il landscape in North Korea.
Political Geography
Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Tokyo, Korea