Improved ROK-Japan Relations, How Far and How Important?

Wednesday 22 February 2023 / 12:00 - 13:30 / Zoom

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The purpose of this webinar is to discuss recent developments in South Korean and Japanese relations. How likely is a continuance of this development, and what potential effects could it have on regional developments in terms of stability and security?

Pyongyang conducted a flurry of missile tests in 2022, and experts and analysts believe that the nation is preparing for a nuclear test. The DPRK claims that this activity is a response to perceived encroachment by U.S., South Korean, and Japanese forces in the region as well as an element of its pursuit of military independence and political sovereignty. Notably, North Korea’s incessant testing is aggravated by its newly adopted nuclear doctrine, that ratifies the country’s openness to carry out preemptive nuclear strikes. President Yoon Suk-yeol’s ambitions to improve relations with Japan appear to have been accelerated by this shift in threat perception. One significant indication of this change was the first-ever trilateral ballistic missile defense drill, which involved two American guided missile ships, two Japanese Maritime Self Defense destroyers, and the most advanced Korean navy destroyer. The same week, the three nations also took part in a joint air drill. To accompany these military maneuvers several high-level meetings between South Korean and Japanese officials have taken place as well as some trilateral meetings between the U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials.

The U.S. has long advocated improved ROK-Japan relations, and in particular closer security cooperation. Under the new Yoon government, attempts to reach a breakthrough with Tokyo are evident. Similarly, a recently released annual poll of Japanese and South Korean opinion from Japanese Genron NPO and the Korean East Asian Institute has shown that widespread support exists in South Korea for Yoon’s new policy. However, the opposition Democratic Party, which controls the National Assembly is critical of his actions. Mr. Lee Jae-myung, who barely lost the presidential election to Mr. Yoon Suk-yeol, denounced the trilateral exercise and claimed it is a pro-Japanese shift intended to forge a military alliance. In Japan, part of the Liberal Democratic Party has constrained PM Kishida from moving forward. This illustrates how improved relations remain hampered by domestic politics in both nations.

Even with the motivating element of the North’s escalating threat, resolving several historic disputes from Japan’s colonial rule over Korea remains a significant obstacle to improved ROK-Japanese cooperation and trilateral security cooperation. The Japanese government however seems to be unwilling to change its current stance: the issue of compensation was solved by the 1965 agreement, that preceded the normalization of ties between the two nations.

To elucidate the unfolding of this complicated development in ROK-Japan relations, ISDP’s Korea Center is honored to organize this webinar.

The webinar will examine potential future advancements in the relationship, its directions and address the strategic and military implications of stronger ROK-Japan ties.


  • What can we expect looking ahead, a continuation of closer cooperation or some form of leveling out?
  • Given the deteriorating security situation, may both countries try to decouple security-related cooperation from the difficult historic relations?
  • What possible actions could both countries pursue to mitigate the public and political opposition to closer relations?
  • What would the role of the U.S. be in this process?
  • Is the creation of a more formal trilateral missile defense structure the logical next step? What would closer cooperation look like, and may we even envisage a more formal trilateral defense and security cooperation?
  • How would China and DPRK react to improved security cooperation between ROK and Japan?

We are honored to have three highly qualified and experienced speakers for this webinar.

From the U.S., Mr. Heino Klinck who served at the U.S. Department of Defense as deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia between 2019-2021 and now is the senior advisor and co-chairman at the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR).


From South Korea, Dr. Lim Eunjung who is an Associate Professor at the Division of International Studies at Kongju National University (KNU). She is also a member of the Policy Advisory Committee for the South Korean Ministry of Unification and has taught at several universities in Japan, the United States, and South Korea.


From Japan, Professor Narushige Michishita who is the vice president and professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Tokyo. Professor Michishita has been a global fellow at Woodrow Wilson Center since 2017 and a member of the National Security Secretariat Advisory Board of the Government of Japan.


The webinar will be moderated by Maj Gen (ret) Mats Engman, ISDP.


12:00 – Introduction by Moderator

12:05 – 13:00 – 10-12 minutes presentation per speaker + discussion with moderator

13:00 – 13:25 – Q&A with the audience

13:25 – 13:30 – Concluding remark and end of webinar