By poking at historical wounds to consolidate domestic support, South Korea and Japan risk more than just diplomacy. The escalation of tensions between Seoul and Tokyo is couched in terms of contested historical memory, but its effects have more direct economic consequences. The collapse of the GSOMIA intelligence pact and a cycle of retaliatory trade restrictions are among the casualties of their diplomatic fallout. Given the growing anger among the electorate in both countries, stoked by incendiary rhetoric and historical outrage, Tokyo and Seoul may find it hard to back down from the cycle of retaliation they have pursued. As long as South Korea and Japan remain at loggerheads, security and economic cooperation is jeopardized, leaving North Korea greater latitude to expand its nuclear capabilities. I have written about how the history debate is being weaponized by both countries to provide a popular mandate for advancing policy goals here.
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