[EDITORIALS]A courageous start

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[EDITORIALS]A courageous start

The Japanese government announced on Monday that Korean tourists and business travelers will be allowed to stay up to 90 days in Japan without a visa. In reciprocity, Seoul took the same measure. South Korea extended its short-term visa waivers to Japanese nationals indefinitely; since 1995, a one-year visa waiver program has applied and been renewed every year for short-term Japanese travelers. The stay was extended from 30 days to up to 90 days. Japan and South Korea, the closest neighbors geographically, will see no more of the obstacle called a visitor’s visa. This is welcome news.
Last year, 2.42 million Japanese visited Korea, while 1.9 million Koreans visited Japan. Riding on the tide of the “Korean wave,” or popularity of Korean pop culture, Japanese tourists flooded into Korea, and Korean tourists visited hot springs, golf courses and ski resorts throughout Japan. The exchange between the countries has been showing a new paradigm with individuals at the center, as well as changes in quality.
With the Aichi exposition in March last year, the Japanese government introduced a temporary visa waiver for Koreans, and there were only a small number of illegal overstayers. Japan’s decision may be a realistic one reflecting such circumstances, but it is also a positive development since it suggests that Japan sees Korea on equal footing. In Asia, Japan had previously waived short-term visas for people from Singapore, Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong and Brunei. We believe that the permanent short-term visa waiver will provide an important steppingstone to improving the quality and scope of exchanges between Korea and Japan.
We see a political intention behind Tokyo’s visa waiver decision as it mulled over the matter for a long time. It wants to find a clue to restoring relations with Seoul, which have frozen over the issue of Japanese leaders’ visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where World War II war criminals are enshrined. We understand this intent, but the shrine visit is a separate matter from civilian exchanges. Unless Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi makes a courageous decision, tensions between Seoul and Tokyo are unlikely to be eased.
Mr. Koizumi’s persistent visits to the shrine have also prompted some opposition inside Japan. Even Yomiuri, a well-known conservative Japanese newspaper, has urged Mr. Koizumi to reconsider his decision. Concerns are rising among Japanese that their country is botching diplomacy with its Asian neighbors.
If Mr. Koizumi is insisting on the shrine visits to strengthen the bonds among Japan’s conservatives, that political purpose will end up with a gain in national governance, but a loss in national interest.
The shrine visit is an issue of historical awareness ― a historical view on Japan’s military aggression and its colonial rule over other Asian neighbors. Korea, one of the victims, will never yield in this matter under any circumstances.
Relocating tablets memorializing 14 class-A war criminals from the Yasukuni Shrine or building a new national war memorial to replace the shrine have been proposed by some sensible Japanese, and Mr. Koizumi must seriously consider such proposals.
The Japanese government courageously waived visas for Koreans. For this action to become a starting point to restore Korea-Japan relations, Japan must seriously review its position on the Yasukuni Shrine visit.
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