Time for prudence, again

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Time for prudence, again

President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday exchanged their individual messages at receptions in Seoul and Tokyo to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Korea and Japan. We welcome the remarkable development that could signal an effort by both governments to find a breakthrough in this political deadlock.

Over the last 50 years, the two countries have plodded their way through an intersection of love and hatred. Ties ebbed to the lowest point when Kim Dae-jung, an opposition leader at the time, was kidnapped in Tokyo in 1973. After 1990, however, bilateral relations reached a peak thanks to vibrant cultural exchanges starting with the onset of the Korean Wave. But the euphoric state in the postwar era suddenly came to a halt in 2012, after Japanese Abe regained power, due to longtime disputes over the Dokdo islets, sexual slavery in the World War II era and other historical issues. Under these circumstances, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se’s state visit to Tokyo could herald a thaw in icy ties.

You can choose your friends, but not your neighbors. As Abe underscored in his reception, Korea and Japan are most important to each other. We should have the wisdom to turn 2015 into a starting point for a new chapter in our relationship.

Fortunately, Tokyo has decided to reflect Seoul’s demand to include information about the fact that Japan conscripted Korean laborers to build its modern industrial facilities if those areas end up being listed as Unesco World Heritage sites. But that’s not enough. Japan should make real progress and admit to how it forcibly recruited thousands of Korean women into sexual slavery during World War II.

Abe is allegedly considering reading a statement on an individual level, not on a Cabinet level, in accordance with his personal conviction to avoid resistance from Korea and China. But if he refuses to confront historical facts in a straightforward manner, it will never work. Pundits have increasingly called for an official summit to take place between Park and Abe.

But if the Japanese prime minister doesn’t change his attitude, it would be seen as inappropriate for both leaders to have talks. Our government must point out the problems with Abe’s revisionist perspective on history, while at the same time seizing upon the chance to normalize ties. Abe’s misleading views on history - which foreign scholars and Japanese academics denounce as completely wrong - must be corrected. That is our president’s historical obligation.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 23, Page 30

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