Both leaders must move forward

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Both leaders must move forward

Today marks the 50th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic relations between Korea and Japan. With the treaty on basic relations signed five decades ago, Korea put the past behind it and shook hands with Japan. Though it is a moment for celebration, ties have probably reached their worst level.

Nearly two and half years after President Park Geun-hye took office, no summit meeting has been held with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. According to a survey, only 6 percent of Koreans - and 10 percent of Japanese - have warm feelings toward each other. Needless to say, such bad ties are a loss for both sides.

The current diplomatic stalemate is not caused by only one side; both leaders must take responsibility. Pushing ties to the brink of a breakdown for their own domestic political reasons or personal belief is a sin. It is time for both of them to come forward to undo the knot they tied. They must find a breakthrough toward a new era of reconciliation and cooperation, and they must do it now.

They must first wrap up the chapter on the past involving Japan’s recruitment and exploitation of Korean women as sex slaves during World War II, which 73 percent of Koreans still regard as a key to improving ties. Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se’s June 21 visit to Tokyo - the first of its kind since he took office - to discuss the matter with his counterpart, Fumio Kishida, testifies to the significance of the issue. There is no one-sided victory in diplomacy. With only 50 “comfort women” alive, the clock is ticking fast. If Japan sincerely admits its culpability, apologizes and compensates on a national level, we can expect a grand bargain with no room for renegotiation.

Another issue is what Abe will say in his speech on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Despite Japan’s agony over the content of his remarks, Abe must explicitly express a sincere apology and remorse for Japan’s aggressions and colonial rule so Koreans can no longer raise the issue by resorting to the Kono Statement or Murayama Statement. Only then can Korea and China accept it. We expect both leaders to hold a summit for a new start based on that very spirit.

As 87 percent of Koreans and 64 percent of Japanese hope for better relations, both leaders have a responsibility to meet those expectations. Both countries’ ambassadors will hold receptions today to celebrate the 50th anniversary of relations in Seoul and Tokyo. If Park and Abe participate, it could herald a turning point for reconciliation.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 22, Page 30

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