A chance to revive relationsThe Japanese have opted for change, in a big way. In Sunday’s general elections, the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan racked up a sweeping victory over the Liberal Democratic Party that has reigned almost for more than half a century. Despite the overwhelming support for the new dominant party, polls nevertheless show that a majority of voters believe that little change will actually take place under the DPJ.
Voters ended the LDP’s 54-year, one-party dominance but remain unwilling to put all of their hope into the new government. In short, the people of Japan cast their ballots in favor of “instability” over “disbelief.” They ousted the Liberal Democrats they no longer trust and chose the precarious Democratic Party that champions change and reform.
We hope that Japan’s history-making power change leads to success first at home. We also hope to see the new administration display responsibility and leadership on the foreign front that is tantamount to its economic might.
Bilateral ties can easily chill and slip into “extraordinary” conditions whenever the two countries face issues related to territory and past history. Sixty-four years have passed since the country’s liberation from 35 years of Japanese colonial rule, and 2010 marks a century from the year when Korea was annexed. Over the years, bilateral ties have deepened and extended tremendously. Yet they swirl and stagger every time the ghosts of the past visit.
There had been meaningful diplomatic developments between the two countries, first in a 1995 address by Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi - who apologized for the pain and harm inflicted upon the Korean people during colonization - and again in a 1998 joint declaration for new partnership after a summit meeting between President Kim Dae-jung and Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. But the revision of history textbooks and a series of verbal gaffes about the past from politicians rekindled the animosity and sent bilateral relations back to square one.
Kim Dae-jung reprimanded the Japanese ambassador over the textbook debacle, and his successor Roh Moo-hyun issued a warning against comments that cause pain to the Korean people. It seems that there is no end to this vicious cycle. We need to establish more extensive and comprehensive bilateral relations, like those of Germany and France.
We hope the Democratic Party will thoroughly examine the reasons behind the stagnant diplomatic relations between the two countries and take necessary steps to improve them. Korean leaders also need to overcome the temptation to use past historical issues for political purposes. The presumptive new Japanese leader, Yukio Hatoyama, champions a closer East Asian community. He has promised not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo that honors war criminals while serving as the prime minister. His party favors granting ethnic Koreans in Japan the right to vote in local elections and apologizing to as well as compensating comfort women.
The two countries have pressing issues such as the North Korean nuclear problem and a free trade agreement to address. Hatoyama professed that his government “will have courage to squarely look at what Japan did in the past and will work by focusing on the future.”
We hope he will keep his promise.