Demand historical awareness firstJapan has recently been excluded from Korea’s main foreign policy axis of four-powers for summit diplomacy. It is very unusual for President Park Geun-hye to have a summit meeting with the Vietnamese leader before meeting with the Japanese leader. Six months into the administration, relations with North Korea is improving. However, there is not a sign of holding a meeting with Japan. President Roh Moo-hyun visited Japan to meet with his Japanese counterpart in June 2003, and President Lee Myung-bak visited in April 2008, both visits being made within a few months after inauguration.
Korea and Japan have a history of love and hate, having experienced hostility and friendship in recent modern history. Despite the painful past of colonial rule, the two countries have normalized relations and been good neighbors. However, it is no exaggeration to say that Korea-Japan relations is at its worst politically and diplomatically. In a survey of both countries in 2013, 17 percent of Koreans responded that the two countries get along, down from 37 percent in 2007, and 18 percent of Japanese respondents said the two countries are in good relations, a huge decline from 72 percent in 2007.
To Korea, Japan is the third largest trade partner and 14th largest foreign investor. Korea and Japan have the largest volumes of human exchange, with 5.66 million people annually traveling to each other’s country. Japan is a close neighbor and an important ally to cooperate in both economics and security. Nevertheless, the time is not ripe for a summit meeting yet. Put another way, we cannot have a meeting even if we want to.
First of all, the circumstances and atmosphere for a summit meeting have not been created. August 15 is a significant day in the histories of both countries, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe failed to mention an apology to his Asian neighbors or express regrets for the past. Instead, his cabinet members made a visit to Yasukuni Shrine, upsetting Koreans even further. While Japan hopes to have a summit meeting, Abe has said, “It is not right to consider historical awareness as a precondition for a summit meeting.” At this juncture, we cannot have a summit meeting. As long as Japan’s historical perspective does not change, true recovery of trust between the two countries and a meaningful outcome from a summit cannot be expected.
Secondly, President Park Geun-hye’s administrative philosophy of “normalization of the abnormal” should be applied to diplomatic relations with Japan as well. The leaders in the Japanese government have made apologies and expressed repentance on the surface but repeatedly made insulting remarks that ruin bilateral relations. They have made inappropriate comments on recent modern history, history textbooks, Dokdo island, comfort women and much more. Korea should not be fooled by Japan’s “stab in the back” and double play. Summit meeting isn’t everything. We first need to seriously contemplate preventative plans to correct the abnormal relationship.
Thirdly, some argue that a summit is necessary in the near future for cooperation in economic and security interests. However, it is more important to enhance national dignity and international reputation based on national pride for true national interest. We are no longer the Republic of Korea of yesterday. Korea’s national strength has improved drastically to maintain equal cooperative relations with Japan in economics and security. Rather, Japan is struggling with history and territorial disputes with neighbors as it becomes ultraconservative and ignores historical responsibilities. For the peace and stability of East Asia, Seoul needs to urge changes and face Japan with dignity. The timing is the best now, as Japan is initiating a summit meeting. We need to demand a minimum precondition of sincere change in attitude on historical awareness and responsible actions. There is no need to rush in order to make the summit meeting a fruitful one that stands by principles.
Translation by the Korea JoonAng Daily staff.
*The author is National Assemblyman and member of the Democratic Party and vice chairman of the Japan?Korea Parliamentarians’ Union.
By Kim Young-hwan