Can Park open the door to better Japan-S. Korea ties?
We hope the chilled relationship between Tokyo and Seoul will thaw under the new South Korean administration.
On Monday, Park Geun Hye took office as the first female president of South Korea, a country currently facing plenty of challenges. Park's father is the late former President Park Chung Hee, and this is the first time an offspring of a former South Korean president has assumed the top post.
The new president held talks with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who attended Park's inauguration ceremony. It is praiseworthy that the two agreed on the necessity of cooperating closely and building a future-oriented relationship between the two countries.
However, the current state of Japan-South Korea relations is severe. It deteriorated rapidly after Lee Myung Bak, Park's predecessor, visited the Takeshima islands last year and demanded the Emperor apologize for the wartime past. Seoul recently lodged a complaint with Tokyo over the attendance of a Cabinet Office parliamentary secretary at a commemoration ceremony on Takeshima Day, an event hosted by the Shimane prefectural government.
Learn from past mistakes
Previous South Korean administrations also have trumpeted future-oriented relationships. However, in the end, they have derailed these diplomatic efforts through their actions on territorial issues and historical perceptions. Park's leadership will be tested over whether she can prevent her administration from repeating the mistakes of her predecessors.
Dark clouds are hovering over South Korea's economy, which had been performing solidly for years. That country's growth rate dropped to the 2 percent level last year, and its export-led economy has been buffeted by a headwind caused by the won's appreciation. South Korea's chaebol conglomerates have developed rapidly by riding the tide of globalization, but this has not led to the creation of jobs.
With a declining birthrate and aging population, South Korea needs to improve its pension and health insurance systems to dispel public anxiety over what life holds for them in old age.
Park pledged to tackle such problems in her inauguration speech. She referred to the "miracle on the Han River," the dramatic economic development achieved under her father's administration, and stressed she would bring about a "second miracle on the Han River."
It will be crucial for her to materialize her plan to expand domestic demand and employment by reinforcing the competitiveness of small and midsize South Korean companies and nurturing venture firms.
Cooperate more with allies
Regarding diplomacy and national security, Park demanded North Korea "abandon its nuclear ambitions without delay." She also showed willingness to hold talks with Pyongyang by saying, "I will move forward step-by-step on the basis of credible deterrence to build trust between the South and the North."
South Korea has recently accelerated the reinforcement of its defense capability, such as by extending the range of its ballistic missiles, as the security threat posed by North Korea grows. According to an opinion poll, more than 60 percent of respondents supported South Korea acquiring nuclear weapons.
It will be essential for countries neighboring North Korea to cooperate more closely to deal with heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Park was quite right to mention she will work to strengthen trust with countries including "the United States, China, Japan and Russia" to ease tensions and conflicts in Asia and promote peace and cooperation in the region.
China has a dominant presence in South Korea. South Korea's trade with China exceeds that with the United States and Japan combined. The annual flow of people between China and South Korea exceeds that between Japan and South Korea by more than 1 million.
All eyes are closely watching whether South Korea will cozy up more to China as it boosts its presence on the peninsula, as this issue certainly has security implications for Japan.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 26, 2013)