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4. Sino-US Row, S. Korea-Japan Discord: Diplomacy Facing Crisis After Crisis

2020-12-31



The year 2020 presented many diplomatic challenges for South Korea, as the trade row between the U.S. and China escalated. Also, another year passed without a breakthrough in the frayed ties between Seoul and Tokyo.
Amid their ongoing trade dispute, the Donald Trump administration ramped up pressure against China, blaming Beijing for causing the spread of COVID-19. Beijing's violation of the spirit of one country, two systems through the Hong Kong national security law was another factor that prompted Washington to increase pressure.
The U.S. imposed sanctions, banning all global semiconductor companies that use U.S. technology from doing business with Huawei, in a bid to prevent China's technological theft. Washington also took steps to restrict visa issuance to apply more pressure on the Chinese Communist Party.
Moreover, the U.S. strongly requested its allies to join its efforts to pressure China, urging South Korea to participate in the Quad Plus, an expanded anti-China coalition involving Japan, Australia, and India. This placed South Korea in an awkward position, sandwiched between the U.S., a major ally, and China, its largest trading partner.
But South Korea may be able to take a breather and seek a new direction following the U.S. election victory of Joe Biden, who has stressed the need for the U.S. to revert to multilateralism.
Seoul-Tokyo relations have been strained following the South Korean Supreme Court's ruling on compensation of Korean victims of Japan's wartime forced labor and lower court rulings on its enforcement. Expectations for a turnabout in bilateral ties were on the rise after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stepped down and the Yoshihide Suga Cabinet entered office in September.
President Moon Jae-in expressed such expectations in a message to Tokyo. The two sides, however, have yet to make any meaningful progress, aside from reaffirming, in principle, the need to restore their relations.
Therefore, South Korea will have to seek to resolve complex diplomatic tasks in its relations with the U.S., China, and Japan in the new year.

Photo : YONHAP News, GettyImagesBank

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