The president’s hard line

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The president’s hard line

President Park Geun-hye expressed hope for a forward looking partnership between South Korea and Japan. In an address on the 96th anniversary of the March 1, 1919, nationwide uprising during Japan’s colonial rule, Park urged Japan to “admit to historical truths courageously and frankly and join hands with South Korea to build a new history as partners for the next 50 years.”

She asked for enlightenment in Japan’s perspective on its past aggressions to open a new chapter in bilateral relations as the country celebrates the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule and the 50th anniversary of diplomatic normalization.

Park’s message to Japan in the March 1 address was nothing entirely new. She reiterated the urgent need for Japan to sincerely apologize to the victims of sexual slavery by Japan’s military during World War II and implored Tokyo to stop distorting historical records in Japanese school textbooks.

Bilateral relations now are at their worst point since the two normalized ties in 1965, and there were expectations that Park would move to break the ice in her March 1 address. But unless there is a change in Tokyo’s attitude on historical issues, the two countries cannot return to a normal relationship.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is hoping to address the U.S. Congress and Senate when he visits the United States during the first half of this year. His speech to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War II in August is also being anticipated and worried about. It remains unclear what kind of tone the conservative prime minister will use in the address. If he stops short of a forthright apology, there is a little chance that the relationship between South Korea and Japan can mend.

Germany was able to lead the rebuilding of post-war Europe because the country was sincere in atoning for its wartime aggressions. Japan needs to show similar sincerity and honesty about its past to bring closure.

History must not be remembered selectively for anyone’s political convenience.

In the same address, Park asked North Korea to rekindle a dialogue to organize reunions for families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War.

She could have been more flexible on the North Korean front. If she had mentioned the possibilities of renewing tourism at Mount Kumgang and easing sanctions, she could have broken the inter-Korean stalemate.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 2, Page 30

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