Time for statesmanship

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Time for statesmanship

President Park Geun-hye’s national address to mark the 70th anniversary of Liberation Day was balanced in laying out what must be resolved and where the country should be headed. She was not as assertive as many hoped about North Korea’s deadly provocation of planting land mines near the border that maimed two South Korean soldiers, or about the ambiguous wording regarding past aggressions
and colonial rule by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his address.

But Korea is under too much pressure to stay focused on the past. China is fast rising as a formidable power and threat to the United States in the region, and Japan is using the rivalry to build up its military power. Washington is turning a blind eye toward Tokyo’s outright turn to the right because it needs Japan’s support to reign in the spread of Chinese influence.

While condemning North Korea’s persistent provocations, President Park reiterated that Seoul remains unconditional about dialogue and humanitarian aid. She also presented a set of realistic proposals. She raised awareness of the urgency of bringing together separated families. Seoul proposed to share the list of some 60,000 people in the South that still have families in the North with Pyongyang so that they can better arrange meetings for them. While displaying disappointment in her Japanese counterpart’s statement marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the war that “did not live up to our expectations,” she nevertheless said it was high time for the two countries to “move forward to a new future” for the cause of peace and prosperityin the region. Whether we like it or not, Japan remains an important economic partner and security ally. We must create a lasting constructive relationship regardless of Abe’s tendencies.

We cannot make any progress on relations with North Korea or Japan if we focus entirely on nuclear and historical issues. The government must follow through and renew high-level dialogue with North Korea.

The South Korean president must exercise statesmanship and diplomatic skills during her visits to Beijing on Sept. 3 and Washington in mid- October. She should use the Beijing event to arrange tripartite talks with China and Japan to make issues related to the Korean Peninsula a primary focus of the U.S.-China summit talks in mid-September. Improved inter-Korean relations could solve many of our problems, and improved ties with Japan on equal footing will work in our favor.

The last 70 years were spent rebuilding and strengthening the country. The next 70 years should be spent bringing unification and peace to the land.

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