S. Korea's new president must seek future-oriented ties with Japan
South Koreans have chosen their country's first female president. We hope she will break through new frontiers and exercise leadership in such matters as revitalization of the country's economy and rebuilding relations with Japan.
Park Geun Hye of the ruling Saenuri Party was elected in a closely fought presidential election, defeating rival candidate Moon Jae In of the Democratic United Party, the largest opposition party.
The key issues during the election campaign were economic problems, including measures to reduce the widening income gap and unemployment.
While Moon emphasized tighter control over family-run conglomerates, Park placed weight on economic growth and securing employment for young people.
We can safely conclude South Korean voters chose economic growth and more employment, rather than restricting the activities of major corporations, which are the locomotive of the country's exports.
Small business measures key
South Korea is now among the top 10 countries in the world in terms of trade volume, due partly to its efforts to promote free trade agreements with the United States, the European Union and others. However, this has not resulted in an increase of jobs. Reinforcing and nurturing small and midsize enterprises, which are crucial to employment, are important issues.
There were also great differences in the approaches of the two candidates to North Korea.
Moon pledged to unconditionally restart large-scale food and fertilizer assistance programs to the North and have summit talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, first secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, next year. His policy is a return to the "sunshine policy" pursued by left-wing administrations.
In contrast, conservative Park also showed a willingness to reopen dialogue with North Korea, but said full-fledged assistance programs must come after a relationship of trust had been built up between the two countries. Her policy follows the footsteps of the current administration, which has demanded that North Korea take concrete actions to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea is still pursuing its nuclear and missile development programs, as was seen in the recent launch of a long-range ballistic missile despite calls by the international community to cancel it.
The victory of Park, who has vowed to take a stern attitude toward North Korea through cooperation among Japan, South Korea and the United States, is a welcome development for Japan.
Repair bilateral ties
Park is the daughter of former President Park Chung Hee, who braved strong opposition within the country to normalize relations with Japan in 1965 and led the country on a rapid economic growth path, dubbed the "Miracle of the Hanggang river." During the election campaign, Park gave prominence to relations with Japan, including the conclusion of an economic partnership agreement.
Many issues are common to both Japan and South Korea, such as low birthrates and aging populations as well the handling of North Korea and China, which is expanding economically and militarily.
Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe congratulated Park on her victory. "I hope to deepen bilateral relations further from a broad perspective by maintaining close contacts," said Abe, whose administration will be launched next week.
We hope the two incoming leaders will initially work toward repairing the Japan-South Korean relationship, which deteriorated to the worst-ever level when President Lee Myung Bak visited the Takeshima islands and demanded for an "apology by the Emperor" to victims of Japan's past colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Of course, there is little ground for optimism, but they need to make efforts to avoid issues of history from negatively impacting on the two nations any further.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 21, 2012)