In August, Japan and South Korea both upped the ante in their intensifying trade dispute. Japan made good on its threat to remove South Korea from a “white list” of trusted export destinations, meaning extra hoops to jump through for the export of sensitive technologies to its neighbor. South Korea responded in kind, removing Japan from its own “white list.”
Tokyo has repeatedly claimed that the new trade restrictions are the result of concerns over South Korean export controls, which Japan insists could let sensitive materials cross into North Korea or China. But many believe the restrictions are the result of a far more toxic brew of nationalism and historical issues, which is being reciprocated in South Korea.
To help sort through the root causes of today’s dispute, The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda spoke to James L. Schoff, a senior fellow in the Carnegie Asia Program. In the following conversation, Schoff explains 2019’s trade tensions in light of longstanding fractures in the Japan-South Korea relationship, and what that legacy means for 21st century geopolitics.