Tokyo, Seoul must find ways to move ties forward despite pending problems
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has not had summit talks with South Korean President Park Geun Hye, who took office in February, and there is no plan for such talks in the near future. How can the two countries solve this abnormal situation? The attitudes and capabilities of the Japanese and South Korean leaders as well as of their nations’ foreign ministries are being put to the test.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung Se, held a meeting in New York and agreed that their countries will continue dialogue on different levels.
However, Yun stressed that South Korea expects the Japanese leadership to have the courage to heal the wounds of the past. Kishida responded that the Abe Cabinet has followed the views of past governments on historical issues and urged South Korea to understand this position.
The two could not make any tangible progress toward realization of a bilateral summit meeting, the most important issue. We think the result was truly regrettable.
It is noteworthy that the two countries failed to agree on various other issues.
For instance, Kishida asked Yun to lift South Korea’s import ban on fishery products from Fukushima Prefecture and surrounding areas. “Japan will thoroughly deal with water contaminated with radioactive substances at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and continue providing relevant information,” Kishida said. However, Yun only explained the background of the import ban.
The Japanese government imposes limits on radioactive substances in food that are stricter than international standards. Though the leakage of contaminated water at the plant has affected sales of South Korean fishery products, the South Korean government’s reaction is excessive and has little scientific basis. We hope it will prudently move toward lifting the import ban.
Settled by 1965 accord
Recently, a high court in Seoul approved damage claims by South Koreans who had been forced to work for Japanese companies during wartime and ordered the descendant company to pay compensation to the plaintiffs. Kishida told Yun that South Korea should act on the basis of the bilateral agreement on property claims and economic cooperation that was reached when the two countries concluded a treaty to normalize relations in 1965. However, the South Korean foreign minister only replied that the trial was still in progress.
The 1965 accord stipulates that the issue of damage claims for individual South Koreans was “resolved completely and finally.” If this issue is left unresolved, similar rulings will be repeatedly made, worsening the situation.
This problem may cast doubt on South Korea’s status as a nation ruled by law. The South Korean government should take forward-looking action to settle this issue.
Meanwhile, Yun again urged Japan to solve the issue of the so-called comfort women.
However, this issue, too, has already been settled by the 1965 accord. We do not think the government should easily make concessions on this matter.
It is disturbing to see that the momentum and willingness to improve bilateral ties are diminishing within the Japanese and South Korean governments.
Today, Japan and South Korea have many significant issues to tackle jointly, such as the nuclear ambitions of North Korea, where preparations to restart a graphite-moderated reactor are becoming evident, as well as negotiations on free trade pacts between Japan and South Korea, and among the two countries and China.
It is important for Tokyo and Seoul to continue dialogue patiently from a broader perspective and try seriously to find common ground, even though the two countries have complicated bilateral problems that cannot be solved immediately.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 29, 2013)