Current Institutional Affiliation
Professor, History, Saint Cloud State University

Award Information

Abe Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Professor, History, Saint Cloud State University
History Is Not Destiny: Reframing Japan-South Korea Relations through the Rule of Law

My project sets forth the evolution and prospect of Japan-South Korea relations with a focus on law and jurisprudence. The two nations have been at odds for much of the past century after the end of Japan's colonial occupation of Korea in 1945. Since the normalization of diplomatic relations in 1965 they have made halting but continuous progress in improving bilateral ties as key allies. In the last several years, however, the structure of the basic treaty agreement has seemingly been thrown into question, threatening to undermine the foundation of mutual understanding and cooperation in the spheres of economy, trade, defense, and national and international security. What was unique in recent clashes was that they started in the unprecedented arena of judicial decision. The old historical struggle between the two countries has shifted to a new battleground, the courtroom. Few studies have so far focused on how domestic law and courts influenced bilateral relations. The development currently unfolding is critically related to judicial autonomy and politics in each country, but policy makers seem to remain consumed by historical disputes of the past rather than reflecting on legal and constitutional changes and their implications for the future. There is a critical need for a reasoned and balanced assessment of the changing dynamic between the administration and the judiciary. An accurate assessment of each country's evolving constitutional identity can provide clarity to the theoretical framework and empirical basis for mutual understanding. I argue that the improvement of Japan-Korea relations hinges on a fresh appreciation of their shared legal and judicial developments. There were deep, persistent, and sustained interactions in law between Japan and Korea for over a century, which in reality never diminished after the colonial period. Respect for law and the integrity of judicial process have firmly taken root in both countries. The courts of each country paid keen attention to the jurisprudential directions of the other because their laws had so much in common. The result was close connections between the two countries' laws and judicial systems, with commitment to liberal democracy and the rule of law. As a legal scholar and historian with expertise in colonial law and modern Korean courts, I seek to articulate a vision for a sustainable cooperation with historical insight. Focus on law and history can consolidate the common grounds of the ideals of law and justice and become a constructive step forward to overcoming the confines of the past. I request a fellowship award for a project that can promote scholarly engagement and new policy directions on Japan-Korea relations by lifting the stultifying colonial spell and promoting the rule of law at both domestic and bilateral policy levels. History is never a destiny; it is a mere framework one can build upon.