This article aims to add a new perspective on how the Japanese government conducted Japan-South Korea negotiations on security-economic cooperation during the early 1980s.
The Zenko Suzuki administration judged that Japan could not meet the U.S. government’s expectations of strengthening its own defense capabilities. For this reason, the administration expressed willingness to cooperate with the U.S. for the economic and social development of strategically important countries. This was intended to work as a means to achieve the ‘comprehensive security’ policy adopted by the Masayoshi Ohira administration and burden-sharing in the U.S.-Japan Alliance. In other words, Japan had an economic cooperation policy that aimed to support developing countries, while recognizing the political impact of foreign aid. Japan had this policy in place before South Korea’s request in 1981 for 10 billion dollars in economic assistance.
The Suzuki administration had already acknowledged the need to support South Korea to ensure Japan’s cooperative relationship with the U.S. Nevertheless, there was a marked contrast in position between Japan and South Korea during the early stages of the negotiations on the official purpose and contents of economic cooperation. Steady negotiation efforts were necessary to create a situation where the Japanese Prime Minister could make bold political judgments and take action on this issue.
The Japanese government later decided to negotiate with South Korea based upon its main principles of economic cooperation, such as ‘improving people’s livelihood’ and ‘maintaining a balance among beneficiary countries’, while recognizing the political nature of such cooperation and its indirect contribution to Korea’s security. In other words, the Japanese government intended to maintain its own initiative on economic cooperation while responding flexibly to South Korea’s request for aid.
During the negotiations, the Japanese side had explicitly stated that it could not agree with Korea’s view that Japan should promote economic cooperation with Korea in order to ease Korea’s military burden. However, Japan did express some understanding of South Korea’s situation and Korea accepted Japan’s assertion that it would contribute to Korea’s economic and social stability. Negotiations then made progress and the two sides agreed on the official purpose for economic cooperation and the amount of assistance from Japan to Korea. Under these circumstances, Prime Minister Suzuki played an important role in deciding the proportion of Japan’s ODA to the total amount of assistance to South Korea. He also explained Japan’s position during the summit talks and dispatched his special envoys to Korea. Consequently, the differences in stance between the two countries on the content of the assistance was narrowed to a considerable extent before the inauguration of the Yasuhiro Nakasone administration.
However, negotiations between Japan and South Korea were suspended during the Japanese history textbook controversy that surfaced at the end of June 1982. When the textbook issue was settled, Suzuki announced that he would not run in the Liberal Democratic Party leadership election. Therefore, the Nakasone administration assumed responsibility for resolving the remaining issues.
There is thus room for further consideration of whether the Suzuki administration’s pacifist stance should be regarded as the reason behind the failure of negotiations with South Korea. It is important to bear in mind the necessity of examining various aspects of Japan’s domestic and international situations. Furthermore, Japan-South Korea negotiations on security-economic cooperation revealed a high degree of policy continuity among the Ohira, Suzuki and Nakasone administrations.