Japan leader says S. Korea ending intel deal damages trust

By KAORI HITOMI, TOKYO, Aug 23 (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said South Korea’s decision to cancel a deal to share military intelligence is damaging mutual trust, and he vowed Friday to work closely with the U.S. for regional peace.

Abe also accused Seoul of not keeping past promises. The military agreement started in 2016.

“We will continue to closely coordinate with the U.S. to ensure regional peace and prosperity, as well as Japan’s security,” he said, ahead of his departure for the Group of Seven summit of industrialized nations in France.

South Korea said it made the decision because Tokyo downgraded South Korea’s preferential trade status, which it said changed the security cooperation between the countries. Seoul says it will downgrade Tokyo as well, a change that would take effect in September.

South Korea accuses Japan of weaponizing trade to punish it over a separate dispute linked to Japan’s brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Japan denies any retaliation.

Japan has long claimed all wartime compensation issues were settled when the two countries normalized relations under a 1965 treaty.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers reporters' questions at his official residence in Tokyo Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Abe said South Korea's decision to cancel a deal to share military intelligence is damaging mutual trust, and he vowed to work closely with the U.S. for regional peace. Abe also accused Seoul of not keeping past promises. The military agreement started in 2016. (Yoshitaka Sugawara/Kyodo News via AP)

But South Korea’s Supreme Court last year ruled that the deal did not cover individual rights to seek reparations and has ordered compensations for victims of forced labor under Japan’s rule.

South Korea’s latest decision on military intelligence came as a surprise to many and underlined how much the relations had deteriorated.

The U.S. sees both South Korea and Japan as important allies in northern Asia amid the continuing threats from North Korea and China. The Pentagon has expressed “strong concern and disappointment” in the collapse of the agreement.

Despite the ample signs of friendly relations between the people, such as the popularity of K-pop in Japan and of Japanese animation in South Korea, the nations are entangled in a long history that has bred animosity.

“The weight of past history influences current relations,” said Daniel Sneider, lecturer of international policy at Stanford University, noting that generations who never directly experienced the colonial and wartime past can remain affected.

Sneider compared the situation to the divisive legacy of the Civil War, which remains relevant for many Americans. He also warned that an easy exit for the Japan-Korea tensions was not in sight.

“Korea certainly was a historical victim in that sense from the countries around it. That’s very embedded in the historical memory that is created for Koreans. It’s in their school curriculum, and it’s in their popular culture,” he added.

“They have this narrative of victimization, in which Japan certainly comes at the top of the list.”

Koichi Ishizaka, an expert on intercultural communication and a professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, called for more dialogue, noting Abe likely feels he gains political points with some voters by slamming South Korea.

“The situation is escalating, and it’s hard to see how the spiraling conflict can be stopped,” he said.

“Although cordial exchange between the people is working for a brighter future, politics has taken a step back and has not caught up with that.”

Liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in has declared that his country would “never again lose” to Japan, although he later softened his tone and said he was willing to talk with Tokyo.

South Koreans have held massive rallies and started a boycott of Japanese products.

The tit-for-tat actions could lead to economic damage that’s bigger for South Korea than Japan. Major South Korean manufacturers, including Samsung, rely heavily on materials and components imported from Japan.

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