‘The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash’ reveals a minefield of political opportunism


Special To The Japan Times

The relationship between Japan and South Korea is a minefield of historical wrongs and political opportunism.

The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash, by Brad Glosserman and Scott A. Snyder
240 pages, Columbia University Press, Nonfiction

Yet security and economic stability in the region are reliant on the two countries coexisting peacefully. Brad Glosserman — a longtime contributor to The Japan Times — and Scott A. Snyder are experts on Japan and South Korea respectively, and this book synthesizes their knowledge to explain the key obstacles to an alliance.

International relations studies tend to focus on military and economic strength, but Glosserman and Snyder take a different approach. Identity, they argue, is the foundation of statehood. On paper, Japan and South Korea should be able to work together. National identity explains why they can’t.

They posit that in a democracy identity arises from public opinion and, to gain an understanding of this, they collated more than a decade’s worth of opinion poll data. This method is open to the usual criticisms — sample size, wording of questions, make up of the sample group — but it’s a start to pinning down something as slippery as identity. Once a convincing picture is produced, and past successes and failures examined, the authors move on to possible solutions.

Although certain sections can be dry, and heavy with statistics, the prose is clear and direct, and the arguments easy to follow, but this is not designed as an introduction and assumes a working understanding of the political and civic realities in the two nations.

For those already versed in the basics, this makes for a thoughtful and enlightening read.