Moving on in apology’s absence

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Moving on in apology’s absence

The United States and Japan agreed to pave the way for a new era of strengthened bilateral ties following Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s eight-day visit to Washington. Beijing, which once cold-shouldered Tokyo out of disgruntlement over Abe’s revisionist view over its wartime aggressions and build-up of military power, is now warming up to Tokyo and discussing arrangements for talks. The tense race over global leadership and the rebalancing of East Asia is heating up.

Yet, South Korea remains excluded and out of tune in this movement on the international front. In a senior-member ruling party meeting on foreign affairs, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se insisted there was nothing to worry about. He argued it was an exaggeration to suggest Korea was being isolated by the renewed alliance between the United States and Japan.

Seoul has seen little progress on the “comfort women” issue because it misread events on the foreign front. Washington needs stronger ties with Seoul and Tokyo more than ever to contain China’s rising status, but it cannot overlook the friction between its two traditional East Asian allies. It’s tried to mediate several times, but Seoul instead demanded Washington wield its influence to correct the Abe administration’s historical perspectives and policies. It focused all its diplomatic power to reflect Seoul’s position in Abe’s address to the Congress.

But the outcome underscored that all of Seoul’s endeavors have been in vain. Abe’s two addresses in the United States - at Harvard University and at a joint session of Congress - adroitly fell short of a fresh apology for his country’s wartime abuses and a genuine acknowledgement of past remorseful legacy. A joint statement following the summit talks specifically said the robust alliance and global partnership between the two was possible because of the common “belief that the experience of the past should inform but not constrain the possibilities for the future.”

The two summits sent a clear message that the past should not be an issue for future partnership. Based on that mood, it is naive to expect a sudden change of mind and sincere apology from Abe in his upcoming address on Aug. 15 to commemorate the end of World War II.

President Park Geun-hye and her foreign team have insisted on an apology and a settlement to the comfort women issue for any improvement in Seoul-Tokyo ties to be possible. The two countries have not had meaningful deep talks or cooperation, not to mention summit talks, although the two current leaders have been in office for more than two years. The time has come for Seoul to re-examine its foreign policy. Times like these demand practical, flexible and shrewd statecraft.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 2, Page 26

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