Troubles Apologies in the Time of Pandemic: Alexis Dudden

June 5th, 2020

The pandemic has been going on for so long that international affairs observers nearly forgot that two of America’s closest allies in one of the most consequential regions in the world have been locked in a bitter dispute since 2018. 

South Korea believes that its citizens who were victims of forced labor under Japanese occupation between 1910 and 1945 have the right to pursue legal cases against private companies that exploited their bodies. Japan believes that they do not have such rights. And both countries have been exchanging barbs that did not fully dissipate with the outbreak of COVID-19.   

Indeed, things might actually get worse in the coming months. On June 1, South Korean courts secured legal grounds to liquidate assets of Japanese steelmaker Nippon Steel that are held in South Korea - and use them to compensate forced labor victims. The seized assets are not a lot of money for a conglomerate like Nippon Steel - approximately USD 330,000. But what is on the line is not money, but historical narrative.

Our guest today is University of Connecticut Professor Alexis Dudden who is the author of the fantastic book on this very subject titled “Troubled Apologies Among Japan, Korea, and the United States.” She joins KEI Vice President Mark Tokola for a timely conversation that highlights how these tensions are rising at a particularly bad moment in international relations - and why controversies over history between Korea and Japan are so difficult to address in the context of the respective countries’ domestic politics.

You can find Dr. Dudden's book here: http://cup.columbia.edu/book/troubled-apologies-among-japan-korea-and-the-united-states/9780231141765

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