This week, on the eve of Japanese Emperor Akihito’s abdication, South Korean President Moon Jae-in praised the leader for his role in fostering positive ties between Japan and South Korea. The moment was a welcome, and all too rare, moment of positivity in an often tense bilateral relationship. Unfortunately, Moon’s greetings—however gracious—belie more trouble ahead. In April, for example, municipal authorities in Seoul canceled a permit necessary for the construction of Japan’s new embassy in the capital—apparently because of construction delays on the Japanese side.
With the permit canceled, Tokyo has scrapped plans for a new embassy and will continue with a smaller diplomatic footprint in South Korea. Adding to the tensions, later in April the World Trade Organization upheld South Korea’s ban on imports of Japanese seafood from the Fukushima area, which was instated after the nuclear disaster in 2011. Tokyo reacted with strong disapproval of the ruling and continues to criticize South Korea’s restrictions.