New leaders stand at a crossroadsThe roles of leaders are critical, particularly when Korea, China and Japan simultaneously undergo pivotal leadership changes. While Xi Jinping took over the fifth-generation leadership of China, Shinzo Abe’s far-right cabinet will take control in Japan on Wednesday and President-elect Park Geun-hye will be inaugurated in February. Include North Korea, and the leadership changes in all four countries of Northeast Asia occur at roughly the same time.
With the world’s No. 2, No. 3 and No. 15 economic powers, Northeast Asia accounts for more than 20 percent of world GDP. At the same time, the region continues to be plagued by territorial disputes and a history of conflict. North Korea has successfully test-fired a long-range rocket that could easily be converted to carry nuclear warheads. China, Japan and South Korea must cooperate to deal with the growing threat from Pyongyang. Given their immense responsibilities for the peace, security and co-prosperity of Northeast Asia, Park, Xi and Abe must meet growing expectations in the region by maintaining their composure, exercising restraint and promoting collaboration.
Under this scenario, Abe’s attitude is especially crucial. If he returns to extreme nationalism on such matters as territorial disputes and the past, reconciliation and cooperation can hardly be achieved. Only when Tokyo accepts its past wrongdoings and demonstrates a future-oriented vision can it contribute to a brighter future. Fortunately, Abe has hinted he may step back from campaign promises to elevate “Takeshima (Dokdo Islets) Day” to a national event and permanently station Japanese government workers in the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands. Abe must not repeat the mistakes of backpedaling on the Kono statement, which apologized for the Japanese government’s involvement in recruiting sex slaves during World War II, and the Murayama speech, which apologized for Japan’s colonial rule.
Korea and China must refrain from provoking Japan at a time when its international influence is weakening and economy stagnating. They should not attempt to exploit territorial disputes for domestic purposes or recklessly punish Tokyo for past insults. Territorial issues should be addressed by practical approaches based on the status quo.
Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo must use trilateral summits to reinforce cooperation. Such collaboration is essential for coping with the North’s nuclear and missile threats, too. Achieving this goal will require significant insight by the new leaders of Japan, China and Korea. We urge them to rise to the challenge.