중앙데일리

Korea hopes for new era in Japan relations

Sept 01,2009
Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, smiles in front of a white board covered with red rosettes pinned on the names of winning candidates at the party’s election center in Tokyo, on Sunday. [AP]
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak yesterday said he hoped for a new era in South Korea-Japan relations in a congratulatory call to Yukio Hatoyama, the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan that ousted the Liberal Democratic Party in a landslide election victory on Sunday.

According to Blue House spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye, Lee noted Hatoyama’s “politics of friendship” and said the two close neighbors would enter a new phase in relations.

In response, Hatoyama said he believed he and Lee could realize a progressive relationship between the two countries because “we’re both able to view history correctly.”

Lee said in return that the historical issues between the two countries “are quite difficult” to resolve, but as long as the two can share a proper sense of history, “We can move toward the future hand in hand.”

Hatoyama said Lee was the first head of state to contact him after his victory.

In June, Hatoyama chose South Korea as his first destination for an overseas trip after taking over the DPJ leadership the previous month.

South Korean officials yesterday expressed cautious optimism that the change of leadership in Japan would help improve Korea-Japan relations, while academics said they don’t foresee major changes in the diplomatic stances of the two countries.

In Sunday’s landslide election victory, the Democratic Party of Japan upended the Liberal Democratic Party, which had ruled Japan for all but 11 months since 1955.

In light of the DPJ’s win, South Korean government officials offered guarded hopes about the chances for improved relations between South Korea and Japan.

An official at the Blue House said late Sunday, as the exit polls projected a victory for the DPJ, the results of the election were a “reflection of the Japanese people’s desire for change and reform.”

He added, “We hope this will be an opportunity to take South Korea-Japan relations to another level.”

Another Blue House official pointed out that Hatoyama, leader of the DPJ and the likely successor to Taro Aso as the next prime minister, has repeatedly highlighted the importance of Japan’s relations with South Korea.

The Foreign Ministry in Seoul, on the other hand, refrained from predicting major changes to South Korea’s policy toward Japan, or to South Korea-Japan relations.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said it is premature to predict where Seoul-Tokyo relations will go from here.

“Rather than comment on the issue in the immediate aftermath of the election, we will offer our view after the new Japanese government is inaugurated,” Moon said. “But we are aware that the Democratic Party of Japan has emphasized Japan’s ties with South Korea.”

Hatoyama has declared he would not visit the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where Japanese war criminals are deified, and asked Cabinet ministers to do the same. Visits by the Japanese leaders to the shrine have angered South Korea, which regards Yasukuni as a symbol that glorifies Japan’s militarism.

Hatoyama has also pledged that he would honor former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s statement, in which he apologized for Japan’s colonial rule.

Lee Won-deok, professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, said the DPJ has shown “willingness to change” Japan’s position on historical issues between South Korea and Japan, including the Yasukuni visit and Japanese history texts that South Korea has argued contain distorted facts.

But Lee also noted that during the election campaign, the DPJ has mostly rallied around domestic political issues. “Once you get down to specific issues, like the Dokdo dispute and textbook revisions, it’s difficult to say whether the new leadership will actually change [from the previous government],” he said.

Jin Chang-soo, an expert on Japan at the Sejong Institute, a South Korean nongovernmental think tank, said on the surface, the DPJ will continue to talk the talk, but walking the walk won’t be as easy. “As far as historical problems go, there’s some division within the DPJ itself,” Jin said. “So even if the Japanese stance changes, the disputes on historical issues won’t be resolved as easily as South Korea hopes.”



By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]






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