Japan and South Korea Mend Relations, Shore Up Ties with U.S. Against Regional Rivals at G7

Japan and South Korea Mend Relations, Shore Up Ties with U.S. Against Regional Rivals at G7
Yoon Suk Yeol and Fumio Kishida at the Japanese Prime Minister's Office in Tokyo, Japan on March 16, 2023 (Kang Min Seok, Office of the President, Republic of Korea)

The Lede: The leaders of Japan and South Korea further mended their countries’ relationship with a Hiroshima memorial visit and a tri-lateral meeting with the U.S. on the sidelines of the latest G7 summit.

What We Know:

  • Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol met on Sunday, the final day of the three-day gathering of the G7 summit. In a highly symbolic act, the two leaders visited a memorial dedicated to Korean victims of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Kishida and Yoon’s meeting was their third meeting since March, hailing a pattern of increased diplomacy between the two countries.
  • Both leaders pledged close bilateral relations with each other and trilateral cooperation with the U.S. in tackling Indo-Pacific affairs with regard to China and North Korea, economic security, and engagement with Pacific island nations.
  • A week before, South Korea’s Samsung Electronics confirmed that it would be building a new semiconductor chip development facility in Yokohama, Japan in a further step in the cooperation between the two countries on chips and security.

The Background: South Korea is not a member of the G7, but was invited by Japan as an observer state, along with the leaders of other non-G7 states. Ties between the two countries deteriorated in 2018 after South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies to pay reparations to South Koreans forced to work as slave laborers during the occupation times. Japan rejected the ruling and claimed that all compensation issues of that era were resolved upon the establishment of relations between the two countries in 1965. Each side imposed a series of retaliatory measures that affected trade and military cooperation. Ties have warmed since early 2023 and Yoon and Kishida have made visits to each other.

Likely Outcomes:

  • Japan and South Korea will elevate diplomatic, economic, and security ties with each other and with the U.S. into the foreseeable future, but will make sure to come short of critical confrontation with China. This echoes the balancing act that the EU has adopted in ‘de-risking,’ but not ‘de-coupling’ from China.
  • The U.S. will focus on and steer the direction of East Asian security and economic cooperation with the two countries. With its military support and presence in both nations, Japan and South Korea will likely follow Washington’s positions on China and North Korea. The U.S. will also depend on Japan and South Korea to cooperate on chips and technology in its competition with China as companies pivot development and production. Companies moving away from China have been looking to Southeast Asia. Future trilateral meetings are likely to take place.


“I think, in essence, the United States, (South) Korea, Japan and other countries are in the same position to sustain the policy. We are reorienting (our) China policy. We are not necessarily antagonizing or standing against China, but trying to base our relationship in a different fashion.” – Park Cheol-hee, adviser to South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol

“[A] trilateral security dialogue between Japan, South Korea and the United States would convey a formidable response both to North Korea and to China, and even to a potential Chinese-Russian military axis.” – Daniel Sneider, East Asia lecturer at Stanford University

Good Reads:

Kishida, Biden and Yoon to showcase unity on North Korea — and China — at G7 (Japan Times)

Yoon, Biden, Kishida put up unified stance against North Korea, China (Korea Times)

Japan’s Kishida, South Korea’s Yoon Meet for 3rd Time (Japan News)

Japan and South Korea leaders mend fences in visit to Hiroshima memorial (The Guardian)

Biden Meets Yoon, Kishida to Counter North Korea, China (VOA)

China and Ukraine force rivals Japan and South Korea to rethink (NBC)

Omurice: A comfort food signals warmer relations are on the menu between 2 key U.S. allies (NBC)