[Letters] Improving Korea-Japan relationsInternational relations are often driven by personal relations. Good relations between President Lee Myung-bak and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan are fostering the normalization process between Korea and Japan. Just like Alcide De Gasperi’s Italy and Konrad Adenauer’s Germany did in the aftermath of Second World War.
The visit of President Lee Myung-bak to Fukushima, together with Chinese Premier Minister Wen Jiabao, marks another significant step towards the normalization of political relations between Seoul and Tokyo. The Lee-Kan relationship resembles the one De Gasperi and Adenauer cultivated.
De Gasperi and Adenauer were frontiersmen, Catholics, they shared knowledge of German language and culture (De Gasperi served under the Austrian Parliament before becoming a member of the Italian Lower House) and they both were imprisoned during dictatorship. Furthermore, they deemed imperative the military alliance with the United States and they were equally keen in fostering economic and political integration among Western European states.
Friendship was not for granted in Europe at that time. Remember that during the last stage of Second World War Italy and Germany, once allies, became suddenly enemies and from the second half of 1943 to 1945 half of Italy was under German occupation. With the war over, old stereotypes and prejudices gained ground as Germans became the “evil Germans” to the eyes of Italians. That was the time when bright-minded and sensible political leadership was needed.
De Gasperi, who led Italy from 1945 to 1953, understood the dramatic importance of normalizing relations with Adenauer’s Germany. It is not a coincidence that the first country to reach out to the isolated and newly born (1949) West Germany was Italy, with De Gasperi inviting Adenauer to Rome on September 1951. De Gasperi trusted Adenauer and believed a free and democratic West Germany would only have contributed to the greater good of Europe’s rebirth.
The Rome visit not only marked the normalization of relations between Rome and Berlin but it also gave leverage to Adenauer’s restrained foreign policy. The friendship between the Italian and the German statesmen lies at the heart of the European integration process - together with Frenchman Robert Shuman, Alcide De Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer paved the way to the late European Union by setting up the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951.
President Lee and Prime Minister Kan seem to be following the De Gasperi-Adenauer example. In a climate of ongoing hidden political and historical strains between Seoul and Tokyo, the Lee-Kan relation emerges as a very important tool to improve political ties and look forward to a path rich in mutual benefits. With common entrepreneurship experience, the two leaders have a spirit of innovation and a frank attitude. President Lee, born in Japan, understands Japanese culture. Premier Kan stated on several occasions his “deep remorse” and “heart-felt apology” concerning Japan’s occupation of Korea, whereas President Lee was the first Korean head of state to fully accept Japanese excuses on the matter.
The foreign policies carried out so far by President Lee and Premier Kan seem to be as far reaching as the ones shaped by the founding fathers of the European Union. Lee and Kan might agree with one of De Gasperi’s most famous quote: “A politician is interested in the next election. A statesman is interested in the next generation.”
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Emanuele Schibotto, editorial Coordinator of Equilibri.net, Rome