Japan’s relations with South Korea — its geographically closest neighbor and a fellow U.S. ally — have always been complicated, with almost cyclical ups and downs. The ebb and flow of the relationship is intimately related to historical grievances that have existed between the two countries since their diplomatic normalization.

Under the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, however, the relationship has fallen to a new low. The South Korean police chief’s visit to the Liancourt Rocks — called Takeshima by Japan, which claims the islands, and known as Dokdo in Korean — while Washington was hosting the South Korean and Japanese vice foreign ministers for a trilateral consultation, was the latest example of the fraught relationship.

The Japanese vice foreign minister subsequently refused to hold a joint press conference in protest. The episode was a reminder that there is little hope left for improvement in Japan-South Korea relations before Moon leaves office in May 2022.