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East Asia

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 293–316 | Cite as

Obama’s Pivot to Asia and Its Failed Japan-South Korea Historical Reconciliation

  • Chien LiuEmail author
Article
  • 34 Downloads

Abstract

Since the 1980s, Japan’s war memory has strained its relations with South Korea and China, to a less degree, the USA. Two of the thorniest issues are the comfort women and the US atomic bombing of Japan. Before the Obama administration announced its policy pivot to Asia in 2011, both Japanese and American leaders were reluctant to make amends for the past acts of their countries. However, in 2015, the Japanese conservative Prime Minister Abe reached an agreement with South Korea that “finally and irreversibly” resolved the comfort women issue, thus achieving a historic reconciliation between the two countries. In 2016, then President Obama visited Hiroshima to commemorate the atomic bomb victims. Then, in December 2016, the comfort women issue resurfaced in Japan and South Korea relations, indicating a failure of the reconciliation. Why did the USA change its policy on historical issues involving Japan? Why did Abe and the South Korean President Park Geun-hye settle the comfort women issue? Why did Obama visit Hiroshima? Why did the reconciliation fail? In this article, I propose a rational choice theory to answer these questions. Applying the proposed theory and relying on available evidence, I argue that the settlement of the comfort women issue and Obama’s visit to Hiroshima are important components of Obama’s pivot to Asia to balance China’s rise. The reconciliation failed mainly because it did not resolve the historical justice issue promoted by the human rights norms. I discuss some implications for reconciliation in Northeast Asia.

Keywords

Historical memory Comfort women issue Rational choice theory Pivot to Asia Human rights norms 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This research is supported by a Wagner College Faculty Research Fund. The author would like to thank Edmund Worthy for his valuablle comments, suggestions, and edits. The author would also like to thank two East Asia reviewers for their helpful reviews.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyWagner CollegeStaten IslandUSA

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