[EDITORIALS]Regrets after the summitPresident Roh Moo-hyun held a summit meeting with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan at the Blue House yesterday. It was the third instance of “shuttle diplomacy” between the two heads of state, in which they eschewed formalities in the interest of promoting understanding between South Korea and Japan, neighbors across a narrow strip of sea. Counting both formal and informal meetings, it was their seventh.
This one came at a time when Koreans were upset over Mr. Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni shrine honoring Japan’s war dead, and over the repeated misdeeds and slips of the tongue on the part of high-ranking Japanese officials concerning historical issues. Reflecting such sentiments on the part of Koreans, there were outbreaks of protest in Seoul.
The major issues on the agenda were the North Korean nuclear problem and the problems related to historical issues. Concerning the nuclear issue, Mr. Roh asked for active, forward-looking cooperation from Japan, while Mr. Koizumi said the nuclear crisis should not be prolonged any further. But it is said that there was tension between the two over the historical issues.
Taking public opinion into account, Mr. Roh conveyed the rage of the Korean people over Japan’s perspective on these historical issues, and explained the adverse effects it will have on bilateral relations. But Mr. Koizumi did not change his position.
Neither the nuclear problem nor the historical issues affect only Korea-Japan relations. Both are directly related to the overall state of affairs in Northeast Asia. Because of this, there is much to be regretted about yesterday’s summit. Concerning the historical issues and the prime minister’s visits to Yasukuni shrine, Japan should have apologized and explained itself. It was these problems that revealed the discomfort of South Koreans and Chinese toward Japan. If Japan doesn’t change its attitude, its role in Northeast Asia will naturally be limited.
We may take comfort in the fact that the consensus on peacefully resolving the North Korean nuclear problem was reconfimed, and that the summit was held on schedule despite Japan’s brazen and expedient understanding of historical issues. To open an era of peace and prosperity for both South Korea and Japan, it is essential that the two countries forge friendly relations. We urge Prime Minister Koizumi to make a courageous decision.