日韓50年式典 関係改善への転機にできるか

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Can both countries use this occasion as a turning point to improve ties?
日韓50年式典 関係改善への転機にできるか

Can Japan and South Korea take this opportunity as a turning point to improve their chilled bilateral relations? The will and efforts of both countries will be closely watched.

The governments of both countries on Monday held ceremonies in Seoul and Tokyo to commemorate the 50th anniversary of normalizing diplomatic relations.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasized, “Let us build a new era for our two countries together, while looking back at the 50 years of history of friendship and looking forward at the next 50 years.”

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said in Seoul, “It is important to lay down the heavy burden of history issues ... As we seek to do so, our two countries can make a fresh start.”

Japan and South Korea have been recently in fierce conflict with each other over historical perceptions, including on the issue of so-called comfort women, and over the Takeshima islands. This spring, both countries were far from celebrating the 50th anniversary of normalizing bilateral ties.

Around the time when South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se’s visit to Japan was decided last week, momentum grew for both countries to compromise.

With the attendance of both Abe and Park, who did not initially plan to attend these ceremonies, both countries were able to call for mending bilateral ties and to transmit constructive messages both at home and abroad.

Park has set solving the comfort women issue as the condition for holding summit talks with Abe. She has also engaged in “tale-telling diplomacy,” criticizing Japan’s historic perception in third countries.

Yet her adherence to history issues has only escalated anti-South Korean sentiment in Japan, while bringing about no positive results in the diplomacy of her country.

Ball in Park’s court

It is quite reasonable that calls for Park to change her policy have grown even within South Korea, besides those coming from the United States.

Taking advantage of the 50th anniversary to unload “the heavy burden of history issues,” Park should review her unyielding stance of pressing Japan alone to compromise unilaterally. Such a move on her part will benefit both countries.

Prior to attending the ceremony, Abe held talks with Yun in Tokyo. During the talks, Abe told Yun: “We have various issues to tackle because we’re neighbors. It is important to hold candid talks with each other.” He thus showed his willingness to hold talks with Park.

Meanwhile, Park held talks with former Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga in Seoul, telling him that the two countries “must pursue trust in diplomacy while healing the wounds of the past.” She also said she will closely watch Abe’s statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Diplomatic authorities in both countries are discussing a plan to hold the first summit talks between Abe and Park, following the announcement of Abe’s statement in August, on the occasion of summit talks involving Japan, China and South Korea scheduled to be held this autumn in Seoul.

There are now many outstanding matters between Japan and South Korea, in addition to history and territorial issues. Included in the issues are a conclusion of an agreement on general security of military information, negotiations on a free trade accord, and South Korea’s import restrictions on Japan’s fishery products.

Needless to say, a single instance of summit talks cannot dramatically improve the bilateral ties. But through a series of dialogues, the leaders of both countries will come up with ideas to advance diverse challenges. This is the role a national leader has to assume.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 23, 2015)

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