Do not let emotions prevailKorea-Japan relations are quickly souring. A diplomatic spat over the Dokdo islets and sensitive historical issues have turned deep-rooted animosity into a brawl on the governmental level, further exacerbating nationalistic sentiments. The two countries’ politically motivated overreactions cast dark shadows over bilateral relations and the future of Northeast Asia.
Yet the responsibility for this situation falls on Japan. If the country had apologized for its shameful past - just as Germany did - bilateral relations would be constructive. A frank admission of its past wrongdoings, including its enslavement of Korean women during World War II, would quickly put an end to the dispute. Japan’s efforts to evade this responsibility by turning a blind eye to its history is the main culprit in the latest disputes.
All the Japanese hoopla over President Lee Myung-bak’s visit to Dokdo actually stems from their provocations. Despite the fact that Korea has sovereignty over the islets - historically and based on international law - the Japanese government has incrementally raised the intensity of its claims. President Lee’s trip to Dokdo is not an issue Tokyo can blame on political motivations.
However, Lee’s choice of words was also not without problems. Referring to the issue of the Japanese emperor’s wish to visit Seoul, Lee used diplomatically inappropriate rhetoric. “The emperor doesn’t have to come to Korea if he again devises obscure words like a ‘thought of regret’ after agonizing for a few months,” he said. Statements like “Japan’s influence in the world is not like yesterday’s” were also not helpful. The remarks he made at a meeting with top Japanese politicians constitute a reversal of his earlier pledge to march toward future-oriented relations.
Yet Tokyo’s alleged consideration of a postponement of a meeting between Korean and Japanese finance ministers, review of currency swaps between the nations and a vow to submit the Dokdo dispute to the International Court of Justice are simply overreactions with political calculations.
This vicious cycle of politicians carelessly provoking national sentiment and then instigating excessive reaction must stop. Both sides must exercise restraint as they are too interdependent to worsen ties. The two governments must bring their provocative attitudes under control.