The Christian Science Monitor has a useful summary of the ongoing diplomatic row between South Korea and Japan:
Korea-Japan dispute strains longstanding alliances
South Korea's president has called recent disputes with Japan over territory, textbooks a potential 'diplomatic war.'
By Robert Marquand | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – A messy moment between the South Korea and Japan got progressively messier this week. A sudden, bitter row over history and territory between the two main US allies in the Pacific was called a potential "diplomatic war" by an impassioned Korean President Roh Moo-hyun - who accused Japan of "rationalizing its history of invasion and colonization."
In an open letter to the people of Korea, and in terms that for discreet Asian diplomacy are probably unprecedented in frankness for a head of state, President Roh detailed their grievances with Japan. Among them: a proposed new high school history text that glorifies the early 20th century occupation of Korea by the imperial Japanese Army, and a recent vote by a Japanese prefecture to claim a historically symbolic island mid-way between the two nations.
"These moves nullify all the past reflection and apologies made by Japan," Roh said in the letter titled, "With Regard to Recent Korea-Japan Relations."
The row comes at a time when the US is aligning ever more strongly with Tokyo, and at a time when some analysts feel that the Roh government is drifting away from the triangular US-South Korea-Japan alliance that has been at the heart of Asian security since the Korean war.
I have written about Tokdo/Dokdo/Tokto/Takeshima here before:
Tensions around disputed islands
Bland propaganda in the Japan Times about Dokdo / Takeshima This article fills in the background to the dispute, and also tells a little-known story about a US bombing run that killed hundreds of Korean sailors on the islands.
One of the less good things about the CSM article is its uncritical assumption of the usual anti-democratic stance:
At a minimum, one senior Western diplomat noted, Roh's intemperate statements shift the focus of attention away from Japanese perceived misdeeds or provocations, and onto the character of Roh himself, virtually letting Tokyo off the hook. Roh has made a series of speeches in recent months that have suggested his government is rethinking South Korea's role in the US-led Pacific alliance.
The article lets you think that this is strange, irrational behaviour from Roh, but gives the game away a few paragraphs later:
In Seoul, the current dispute is palpable. It is slathered across front pages, heard in street protests, and debated at dinner tables. Some demonstrators have gone so far as to cut off fingers and attempt self-immolation - one even drowned to death.
In recent days, Mr. Roh's lackluster approval ratings have spiked upward as he has taken a headstrong approach.
In other words, Roh is reflecting popular sentiment. The writer of the article views this with detachment or disdain: in his view, the job of the leader of a democracy is to ignore the views of his electorate and favour the priorities of the 'international community'. (cf Rumsfeld on "Old Europe" and, especially, Turkey, at the time of the build up to the invasion of Iraq.)
I tend to agree with Marquand that "the US is aligning ever more strongly with Tokyo": recent comments by Condoleeza Rice on her tour of Asia certainly suggest this.
The secretary was almost effusive on the U.S. alliance with Japan. In a speech, Rice addressed an issue important to status-conscious Japanese: "Japan has earned its honorable place among the nations of the world by its own effort and by its own character. That is why the United States unambiguously supports a permanent seat for Japan on the United Nations Security Council."
From a Japan Times article.
Marquand's "some analysts feel that the Roh government is drifting away from the triangular US-South Korea-Japan alliance" is presumably based on his reading of a recent speech Roh made:
Roh told graduating cadets at the Korean Air Force Academy that South Korea was fully capable of defending itself against North Korea, thus undermining the reason for posting American combat forces in his country.
At the same time, the president asserted that the U.S. would not be allowed to deploy U.S. forces out of Korea without his government's approval, thus putting a crimp into Pentagon plans to forge American troops in Korea into a flexible force that could be swiftly deployed to contingencies outside Korea.
from another Japan Times article, by the thoroughly biased Richard Halloran (see his first sentence, which I omitted here, for example.)
Roh's speeches are on his website: