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Despite highly favorable conditions for cooperation. South Korea and Japan have experienced almost constant diplomatic conflict since the end of the Cold War, in large part because of unresolved history disputes. Through the theoretical approach of symbolic politics, I examine the substance of these conflicts and the processes by which specific group identities affect policymaking in and the relationship between the two countries. Based on three case studies I suggest that diplomatic conflicts are the result of identity clashes between a group of Japanese conservative elites and the South Korean public, manifested through the elite-led process of symbolic politics in Japan and the mass-led process in South Korea. These findings help analysts understand the patterns that these conflicts exhibit and assess the prospects for future reconciliation between South Korea and Japan.