Korea X Japan! Team Hyper! Go! Go! Go!

Yesterday Robert Kelley unleashed an interesting post about South Korean and Japanese relations. For the life of him, he could not figure out why two states he felt so similar, just could not come together on a myriad of issues. The root of the problem is that they’re actually different.  I’m not going to get into his realist approach because he may not be too far off there, but that’s the problem with realism and the black box. Perhaps it’s not the best tool(Because of massive generalization) for understanding these two different powers in terms of cooperation. Doing so would leave you with questions like this,

So if states balance power (Waltz), wouldn’t Japan and Korea be cooperating to hedge China, and mildly cooperating to more balance NK?

What’s the point when both states have security guarantees from the United States? South Korea seems more than happy to lean on its agreement with America, while Japan looks much more ambitious as far as security. I think it would be safe to assume that this would help encourage the current level of mistrust between the two. Prospects for partnership never looks good in this scenario.

The Liberalism section, not touching.

The constructivist section, holy cow. Yeah, I have a variety of issues with it — main one being I’m not sure if Robert Kelley misunderstands constructivism or he’s forcing the issue by downplaying their differences. Constructivism isn’t just about cultural similarities, there’s a huge component for identities and practices. What a state is able to and decides to do is based on their identity and norms created through a social framework. South Korea and Japan have different identities and different roles — actors in the international system recognize this and interact accordingly. Some of this has been decided by history, one piece of land has been invaded 100s of times throughout the centuries, the other nation could be considered as imperialists less than 100 years ago. Japan’s role as an imperialist power has led to conquering Korea after decades of Korea being nothing more than oppressed peasantry with low self esteem, and apparently there are Japanese people who think it was for the best. This is a very different view from that of Korea’s and I would imagine it is a contentious one. Still, westerners seem to get lost somewhere in understanding how big a difference it is to be influenced by Confucianism as a hegemon and a subaltern.

Brian Myers argues that this cultural similarity is one the reasons why Japan was able to absorb Korea without too much difficulty.

Could it be because the Koreans are really low-key flexible people? The Gabo reforms were basically extreme acts of cowardice in preparation for welcoming their new Japanese overlords, who just happened to be handing China’s(Korea’s former handler) ass to them.  I guess emasculating men by cutting off their top knots doesn’t provide “too much difficulty”, but this has more to do with Korea’s historical identity as subaltern people than cultural compatibility/similarities. This is a good time to point out Japan treated Korea like absolute shit, and if you actually do care about your identity and transforming it into something that increases your range of acceptable behavior, then maybe being your bullies’ water boy isn’t a good idea. Even if they have been reigned in by a mutual friend. Kelley seems to be oblivious to this, or possibly trolling his Korean students.

The more time I spend in Asia, the more I think Korea, Japan, and China are more culturally similar than they want to admit. (My students bristle at that one a lot.)

And then…

As a rule, I find Koreans worry far more about Japan than China, or even NK (yes, that’s not an exaggeration outside of the foreign policy set), and there is a far amount of paranoia about Japan lurking beneath the surface. I know Japan less well, but Japanese colleagues I know from conferences tell me similar stories about how many Japanese look down on Koreans and secretly think Japanese empire was good for Korea, because it brought modernity.

The constructivist answer to his problem is right in front of his eyes.