Northeast Asia's turbulent triangle: Korea-China-Japan relations

International relations Defence East Asia China

Introduction: In this workshop report Lowy Institute Nonresident Fellow Dr Malcolm Cook examines the bilateral relationships in Northeast Asia. He argues that ties between China and Japan, China and South Korea, and South Korea and Japan are in a period of fundamental change driven mainly by domestic and bilateral factors.

Dr Cook writes that China-South Korea relations are broadening in a positive direction, while Japan’s relations with both China and South Korea are in a much less positive state. The report reasons that the factors driving these relations are not only important in shaping relations within Northeast Asia, they also have the potential to impact US-China relations.

The report draws on discussions from three closed-door workshops, all entitled ‘Northeast Asian political and security dynamics in flux’, hosted by the Lowy Institute's East Asia Program in Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo in September 2013.

Key findings:

  • China-South Korea relations are in a long period of increasing recognition and broadening engagement. China-Japan relations are the opposite.
  • Popular antipathy is increasing in China-Japan and Japan-South Korea relations and raising the political costs of any perceived compromises on territorial disputes.
  • China-Japan relations have a greater potential to destabilise US-China relations than US-China relations do China-Japan relations.
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