| Backgrounder: The U.S.-South Korea Alliance

The longstanding U.S.-South Korea alliance, originally established during the early years of the Cold War as a bulwark against the communist expansion in Asia, has undergone a series of transformations in recent years. Since 1998, when political power passed for the first time from the dictatorial ruling party to the political opposition, the United Democratic Party, successive UDP governments have steered a more independent course from Washington, sometimes leading to friction. During the tenure of President George W. Bush, the once solid alliance went through a difficult period. Among the many issues that bedeviled ties was disagreement over how to handle Pyongyang’s erratic behavior, a generational divide in South Korea on the alliance and the U.S. military presence that underpins it, an ascendant China, and disagreements during bilateral trade negotiations. In 2007, the countries signed a bilateral free trade accord and agreed to a rearrangement of the military command structure that gives Seoul a greater say in its own defense. They also narrowed their differences on North Korea policy. In 2007, a conservative, Lee Myung-bak of the Grand National Party, won South Korea’s presidency, and his party followed up with victories in 2008 parliamentary elections, ending two decades of UDP dominance. Lee strongly supports the U.S. free trade agreement and takes a harder line on North Korea unlike his two predecessors.

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Co-authored by Carin Zissis and Youkyung Lee | The Burden of Saying Sorry

Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe drew international reproach recently for disputing that his country's military coerced young women into sexual enslavement during Japan's occupation of China and the Korean peninsula. The controversy also raised questions about the importance of saying sorry, a gesture that can smooth diplomatic waters but can also open the door to claims for legal compensation. Abe's remarks came shortly after U.S. Rep. Michael M. Honda (D-CA) proposed a bill in January demanding that Tokyo apologize and accept “historical responsibility” for the Japanese military's role in the abuse of “comfort women.” That is the term for the roughly 200,000 mostly Korean and Chinese women pressed into providing sex to Japanese soldiers during wartime.

Read the full text. | Crisis Guide: The Korean Peninsula

Over half a century since Korean War's end, conflict persists on the peninsula. Explore the military, economic, and nuclear dimensions of this frozen conflict.

Served as writer/producer.

This interactive helped win a 2007 Knight-Batten for Innovations in Journalism for its for its Crisis Guide Series.

Access this interactive crisis guide. | the South Korean Divide

As the global reaction to North Korea’s nuclear test softens from shouts to chatter, South Korea considers cautious steps about how to handle Pyongyang. Seoul remains concerned that strong action against Pyongyang could lead to the collapse of Kim Jong-Il’s regime and a rush of refugees across the border (Reuters). North Korea said the South's proposed travel and trade restrictions would be considered an act of war (BBC), and many South Koreans are reluctant to endorse sanctions they feel will prolong or deepen suffering in the North (NYT). The nuclear test sparked a debate within South Korea about whether it should continue its strategy of engagement known as the “Sunshine Policy” or turn toward a more militaristic approach, which could include developing nuclear missiles (CSMonitor).

Read the full text. | Japan’s New Leader Faces Old Problems with China and South Korea

Shinzo Abe took the helm from Junichiro Koizumi in September as Japanese prime minister during a period of chilling relations with Beijing and Seoul, due to China and South Korea’s memory of brutal Japanese aggression in the region during the decades leading up to Hiroshima. Koizumi's official visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors several Class A war criminals along with about 2.5 million war casualties, had revived memories of Japan's World War Two-era brutalities in China and South Korea. In recent months, then–cabinet chief Abe’s emergence as the favored candidate for the premiership by the governing Liberal Democratic Party did little to calm Chinese and South Korean fears. The right-leaning leader has been unapologetic about his country’s history, and he supported the revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution. Also, he has not concealed his affection for his deceased grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, a Japanese prime minister after the war, in spite of a war crime indictment. But experts say that the North Korean nuclear test announcement, which came within weeks of Abe taking office, presented the three countries with an opportunity to forge common ground in handling the crisis. Abe's first official visits, to Seoul and Beijing, prompted hopes that he would bring a new commitment to improving relations with Japan's important neighbors.

Read the full text. | U.S.-South Korea: Uneasy Allies

With South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun’s visiting the White House this week with President Bush, some commentators say the longstanding alliance between the two nations needs mending. The two sides agreed in advance of the meeting not to issue (Korea Times) any joint declarations at the conclusion of summit, but they did concur on the importance of Six-Party Talks with North Korea, transferring control of their combined forces, and forging a trade deal. So far, Washington and Seoul have made little progress in their proposed bilateral free trade agreement (Seattle Times), which would be the most far-reaching trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement. Another thorny issue involves the timing for the United States to hand over wartime control of U.S.-South Korean combined forces (Stars and Stripes).

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