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By Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow, Counsel on Foreign Relations
Reviewed by Francis P. Sempa, Contributing Editor

In recent testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sheila Smith of the counsel on Foreign Relations highlighted the importance of U.S. alliances with Japan and South Korea as the United States continues its strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific Region.

Smith noted that Japan and South Korea continue to host the bulk of U.S. forward deployed military forces in the region. Both countries have new leaders: Prime minister Abe Shinzo for Japan; and President Park Geun-hye for South Korea. North Korea’s continued belligerence and the rise of China have, if anything, increased the strategic significance of our alliances with both countries.

While both Japan and South Korea continue to have good relations with the United States, their relationship with each other has deteriorated. The leaders of these two important U.S. allies have not met for more than a year, and the memories of the Second World War have not faded.

This situation presents the United States with challenges for 2014, Smith said. China’s aggressive patrols of the Senaku Islands in the East China Sea have exacerbated already difficult relations between China and Japan. Some observers worry that without some diplomatic easing of tensions, China and Japan may be headed for military confrontation in the East China Sea. Meanwhile, North Korean saber rattling continues with the threat of nuclear weapons not far from the surface.

Smith recommends that the U.S. increase economic and defense cooperation with both countries, while using its diplomatic tools to ease relations between Japan and South Korea. The region will be more secure if the United States, Japan, and South Korea present a unified approach to the security problems posed by China and North Korea.

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