The Current State of Japan-Korea-U.S. Trilateral Relations

Sun & Star’s Webinar on the current state of Japan, South Korea, and U.S. Trilateral Relations provided a window to the intricate world of international relations and diplomacy not only for the East Asian region but around the world. Moderated by SMU Professor Hiroki Takeuchi and hosting panelists Professor Yasuyo Sakata from the Kanda University of International Studies and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea and Japan at the U.S. Department of State Marc Knapper, the webinar brought incredibly insightful and accomplished speakers to the screens of academics from various backgrounds and countries. It delved into the importance of this indispensable relationship and discussed the difficulties in diplomacy as the U.S., a moderator for these two nations on the global stage.

Although the U.S. alliance with South Korea and Japan began as a security alliance, it has now evolved to much more than that. Today, our alliance allows for the exchange of goods and services, education, science and technology, and intelligence, just to name a few. While the U.S. has maintained strong ties with both nations, Japan and South Korea’s bilateral relationship is “rocky,” to say the least. With their histories mired in conflict and tension, Japanese-Korean relations are at their lowest point since 1965, and the two countries seem to only be connected through negative issue linkage politics. This is not the most ideal situation for a relationship, but with U.S. involvement, Japan and South Korea continue to cooperate on numerous critical matters in modern-day politics and society. Some of these include military cooperation, crisis management, technological advancement, and maintaining a united front against authoritarian neighbors China and North Korea through shared values such as freedom, the rule of law, and democracy.

What I found most interesting was what this trilateral relationship represents, which is the ability to find common ground despite historical differences. The U.S. connects two countries that without it, would likely lose valuable contributions to their economies, societies, and politics. Through this webinar, I was able to deepen my understanding of how the U.S. functions diplomatically. Despite our domestic differences, in foreign diplomacy, we are a united nation that exemplifies democracy, cooperation, and progress. Mr. Knapper ended the lecture with a quote that captured the importance of this relationship: “it is our responsibility as a democracy to set the standards for diplomacy, if we don’t, someone else will.”

Watch the full event in the video below.


This post was written by Saavni Desai ’23, a President’s Scholar and Tower Scholar. She is double majoring in Political Science and International Studies with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa and triple minoring in Arabic, Philosophy, and the Tower Scholars Public Policy and International Affairs minor. She also does research alongside Professor Takeuchi and is involved in Mock Trial, Indian Student Association, and the Alpha Chi Omega sorority.