The relations between South Korea, Japan and the United States are often described as triangular. The two Asian countries have been long-time alliance partners of America, and all share common interests, such as North Korea’s denuclearization. Yet this North East Asian triangle is facing an uncertain future, and while it has to adapt to the rise of China, America debates its role in the region, and South Korea and Japan keep clashing over historical disputes.
To learn more about these challenges for the relationship between the three countries, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan D. Pollack. He spoke to us about the paradoxical realities of East Asia’s international relations, South Korea’s and Japan’s different perceptions and agendas, and about the implications of these issues for the United States and its presence in the region.
Jonathan D. Pollack is the Interim SK-Korea Foundation Chair in Korea Studies in the Center for East Asia Policy Studies and a senior fellow in the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution. Previously, he was a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and worked for the Rand Corporation. Jonathan Pollack has written numerous books and articles on East Asia’s international relations and received his MA as well as his PhD in Political Science from the University of Michigan.
In some sense, the only time that both [South Korea and Japan] think about one another is when you think about North Korea. Because you could argue: there, that’s a basis for a common perception of threat. But my own view is that even there South Korea lives with this every day, it’s the reality of a divided peninsula, of a highly adversarial relationship with the North – now, North Korea has a very poor relationship with Japan as well, but it doesn’t have that same immediacy.
The interview was recorded on October 18th, 2016 in Columbus, OH.