A breakthrough in frozen tiesKorean foreign minister Yun Byung-se will make a two-day visit to Tokyo on Sunday to hold his first bilateral meeting with Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida. On the following day, he will attend a ceremony in Tokyo to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties between Korea and Japan in 1965. In a similar reception hosted by the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on the same day, a high-ranking official from the Japanese government is expected to arrive - probably to deliver a conciliatory message to the Park Geun-hye government amid their tense relations.
In the two remarkable ceremonies, congratulatory messages from leaders of the two countries will also be read. Foreign Minister Yun’s Tokyo visit may provide a much-needed breakthrough in bilateral ties that have been stalled for nearly three years, since the launch of the Park administration in Korea. We welcome Yun’s visit to Tokyo.
Needless to say, Japan is Korea’s close neighbor, along with China. If both countries cooperate, they can gain much from each other. Nevertheless, both sides have trouble communicating with the other due to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s alarming nationalist moves.
The leaders of Korea and Japan have not held talks since they took office because of three issues.
First, Seoul maintains that bilateral ties cannot improve unless Tokyo makes a clear apology and atones for the recruitment and enslavement of Korean women by the Japanese imperial army during World War II.
Second, Korea wants Japan to reflect Korean sentiment as it seeks heritage recognition from UNESCO on its modern industrialization facilities that prospered thanks to cheap Korean labor during the colonial days.
Third, Korea demands Prime Minister Shinzo Abe make an articulate apology for Japan’s wartime aggressions in his speech commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II that also marks Korea’s liberation from Japan in August.
The comfort women issue is the most sensitive topic between the two nations. President Park Geun-hye repeatedly announced that Tokyo must show sincerity on the issue for any progress to happen in bilateral relations. The two countries have been discussing the matter through director-general level meetings. President Park recently said the two sides were in the final stages of negotiations on the issue and made considerable progress.
But Tokyo denied any meaningful progress. The upcoming foreign ministerial talks must settle the issue. However, Yun must not hurry to wrap up the talks just because President Park indicated there would be an outcome on the comfort women issue soon.
The bottleneck in bilateral ties has been caused by the revisionist historical perspective of Abe. But Korea cannot go on staying cold with Japan. It must be firm on issues like comfort women while at the same time seeking cooperation and dialogue in other areas. Practical diplomacy is what we need now. JoongAng Ilbo, June 18, Page 30