Time to mend tiesKorea and Japan still cannot find a way to start thawing out their deeply frozen ties. Despite strong voices calling for improved relations from high-profile groups in both countries ahead of the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties next year, bilateral relations on the governmental level are still cold as ice. Last Wednesday’s director-level meeting between the two governments aimed at addressing the thorny issue of the so-called comfort women - arguably the best litmus test of improvement in bilateral relations - ended without any substantial results.
At a meeting with President Park Geun-hye at the Blue House last Saturday, Tokyo Governor Yoichi Mazuzoe delivered Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe’s message that he would make efforts to improve Seoul-Tokyo ties. But that meeting is not expected to lead to any follow-up measures by the Park administration, according to officials at the Foreign Ministry. The government’s suspicions about Tokyo’s sincerity on just about every issue only grew after the Japanese government has taken a clear swing toward revisionist history as seen in Abe’s paying respects at the Yasukuni Shrine at the end of last year. Japan is trying to glorify its violent past and continues to backslide on apologies made by previous governments.
As the diplomatic standoff goes on, each nation’s attitude about the other has reached new lows. According to a recent joint survey by the East Asia Institute in Korea and Press NPO, a Japanese nonprofit, 71 percent of Koreans and 54 percent of Japanese harbor negative attitudes toward each other. Japanese negativity increased by 17 percent compared to last year. There can hardly be a worse indicator of the dismal state of our relations.
It is time for both governments to turn the situation around and look to a better future. As no big elections will be held in either country after August, their governments can shake off domestic political concerns. Fortunately, multilateral meetings among foreign ministers representing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations take place in Myanmar in early August, followed by a series of summits for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing in November.
Moreover, Japan’s new ambassador to Korea has been named. Those events provide good opportunities for both Seoul and Tokyo to hold a foreign ministerial-level meeting and a summit later to break out of an unprecedented diplomatic logjam. Japan should first prove its sincerity on the issue of history distortions and must not exacerbate the current diplomatic stalemate. Both sides must exercise flexibility. History shows that amicable relations and mutual cooperation were beneficial to both sides in the past.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 29, Page 30