A step toward reconciliationA Korea-Japan summit is finally set to resume on Monday after a 42-month hiatus. The last talks were held in May 2012 between then-President Lee Myung-bak and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Now, President Park Geun-hye will have her first summit with Abe since the launch of her government in February 2013. The reason talks were halted primarily stems from disputes over history. In the upcoming summit, as well, both leaders may have a difficult time reaching a breakthrough over such thorny issues. Despite the Korean government’s steadfast position to address the issue of wartime sexual slavery, Japan adheres to its previous hard-line positions. Diplomatic sources say that so far there has been no coordination behind the scenes.
Yet, it’s deplorable that the two leaders have ignored each other for so long. That’s why we have consistently proposed a “two-track policy” - dealing with pending issues while holding Japan accountable for its wartime atrocities, including the mobilization of thousands of Korean sex slaves. It’s fortunate that both sides have decided to tackle these crucial issues to break free from the shackles of the past. The National Diet of Japan recently passed security bills that would allow the country to exercise its right to collective self-defense under the banner of a war-capable country. That’s a very sensitive issue for us. Even though Japan promises to not enter Korea’s territorial waters and airspace before obtaining permission, it’s a different story when it comes to North Korea. As evidenced in the latest meeting between the defense ministers from Seoul and Tokyo, Japan takes the position that it does not need our permission to invade or enter North Korea, which is “beyond the South Korean government’s effective control.” Because North Korea is our territory, according to our Constitution, we cannot simply sit on our hands. President Park must make our position clear on this issue during the talks.
She must also bring up the issue of Korea joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, even as a late comer. Because Japan is one of the two pillars of the trade agreement, our president must draw positive support from the Japanese prime minister - on many other urgent challenges as well, including the nuclear threat from North Korea and the construction of a Northeast Asian economic bloc.
Needless to say, all these issues cannot be addressed in a single summit. However, both leaders must engage each other and take advantage of the years that have passed to rejuvenate bilateral diplomatic ties and forge a path toward harmony and common prosperity.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 27, Page 34