Japan, S. Korea should compromise to reconstruct vital relationship
At a time when the situation in East Asia has become increasingly unstable, cooperation between Japan and South Korea is becoming even more important. Both sides should step closer to each other to put bilateral relations back on a more normal footing.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se recently held talks in Brunei and agreed to stably develop a “future-oriented” bilateral relationship.
These were the first such talks between Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers in about nine months. It was extraordinary that the neighoring nations had not held any summit or foreign ministerial meetings since the administration of South Korean President Park Geun Hye was launched in February.
There are many issues that Japan and South Korea should jointly address, such as North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs and China’s rise in the military and economic spheres. The stalemate over economic issues, as exemplified by the prolonged suspension of talks for a bilateral free trade agreement, also cannot be overlooked.
China playing hardball
Meanwhile, the United States has been indirectly trying to improve Japan-South Korea ties apparently because it believes the deterioration in the bilateral relationship would undermine peace and prosperity in East Asia.
China has reportedly stated that it will only hold a Japan-China summit meeting on the condition that Tokyo acknowledges a territorial dispute exists over the Senkaku Islands. Once again, a meeting between the foreign ministers of Japan and China was not held this time. Given the possibility that high-ranking officials of Tokyo and Beijing cannot hold talks for an extended period, the necessity of rebuilding Japan-South Korea relations takes on even greater importance.
Japan and South Korea have been trading jabs over territorial and historical perception issues involving the Takeshima islands and so-called wartime comfort women. The South Korean foreign minister told his Japanese counterpart that if Japan “fails to carefully deal with the history issue, it will hurt the soul of the [Korean] people.”
But we believe that an intrinsic role of diplomacy in this context is to ensure both nations have substantive cooperation over North Korea and other issues while keeping their differences to the absolute minimum.
Lee started the chill
The current chilly state of relations between Japan and South Korea was originally caused by a visit by former South Korean President Lee Myung Bak to the Takeshima islands and his demand for “an apology” from the Emperor last summer.
South Korea should resist the temptation to bring up issues regarding differences over historical perception with Japan at such occasions as summit talks with U.S. and Chinese leaders. Japan, for its part, should give some consideration to the impact of visits by Cabinet ministers to Yasukuni Shrine. It is essential that both sides tenaciously engage in dialogue and make efforts in areas in which they disagree and search for common ground.
We urge both nations to make the latest Japan-South Korea foreign ministerial meeting a stepping stone that can expedite coordinations to realize a bilateral summit meeting later this year.
At a trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of Japan, the United States and South Korea, which was held prior to the Kishida-Yun talks, the three top diplomats confirmed they would not accept the possession of nuclear weapons by North Korea and would urge it to take concrete actions toward denuclearization.
North Korea recently has shown a greater willingness to hold dialogues with other nations that have a stake in the nuclear issue. However, more important than resuming six-nation talks and other channels of dialogue is having North Korea take tangible steps to abandon its nuclear weapons.
Japan, the United States and South Korea must hold a series of consultations and maintain their current solidarity to keep pressuring North Korea through Chinese channels to make Pyongyang take substantive actions toward its denuclearization.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 2, 2013)