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The Koreas

Japan's policies toward the two Koreas reflects the importance this area had for Asian stability, which is seen as essential to Japanese peace and prosperity. Japan is one of four major powers (along with the United States, Russia, and China) that have important security interests on the Korean Peninsula. However, Japan's involvement in political and security issues on the Korean Peninsula is more limited than that of the other three powers. Japan's relations with North Korea and South Korea has a legacy of bitterness stemming from harsh Japanese colonial rule over Korea from 1910 to 1945. Polls during the postwar period in Japan and South Korea showed that the people of each nation had a profound dislike of the other country and people.

Article 9 of Japan's constitution is interpreted to bar Japan from entering into security relations with countries other than the United States. Consequently, Japan had no substantive defense relationship with South Korea, and military contacts were infrequent. The Japanese government supported noncommunist South Korea in other ways. It backed United States contingency plans to dispatch United States armed forces in Japan to South Korea in case of a North Korean attack on South Korea. It also acted as an intermediary between South Korea and China. It pressed the Chinese government to open and expand relations with South Korea in the 1980s.

Japan's trade with South Korea was US$29.1 billion in 1991, with a surplus of nearly US$5.8 billion on the Japanese side. Japanese direct private investment in South Korea totaled US$4.4 billion in 1990. Japanese and South Korean firms often had interdependent relations, which gave Japan advantages in South Korea's growing market. Many South Korean products were based on Japanese design and technology. A surge in imports of South Korean products into Japan in 1990 was partly the result of production by Japanese investors in South Korea.

Japan-North Korea relations remained antagonistic in the late 1980s. The two governments did not maintain diplomatic relations and had no substantive contacts. The opposition Japan Socialist Party, however, had cordial relations with the North Korean regime.

Issues in Japan-North Korea relations that produced tensions included North Korean media attacks on Japan, Japan's imposition of economic sanctions on North Korea for terrorist acts against South Korea in the 1980s, and unpaid North Korean debts to Japanese enterprises of about US$50 million. Japan allowed trade with North Korea through unofficial channels. This unofficial trade reportedly came to more than US$200 million annually in the 1980s.

In the early 1990s, Japan continued to conduct lengthy negotiations with North Korea aimed at establishing diplomatic relations with P'yongyang while maintaining its relations with Seoul. In January 1991, Japan began normalization talks with P'yongyang with a formal apology for its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. The negotiations were aided by Tokyo's support of a proposal for simultaneous entry to the UN by North Korea and the Republic of Korea (South Korea); the issues of international inspection of North Korean nuclear facilities and the nature and amount of Japanese economic assistance, however, proved more difficult to negotiate.

Data as of January 1994