Finding a breakthrough

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Finding a breakthrough

South Korea and Japan have failed to find a breakthrough in the conflict over the installation of a “comfort woman” statue behind the Japanese Consulate General in Busan since January. As Japan’s Ambassador to Seoul Yasumasa Nakamine was ordered home in January in protest of the statue, the war of nerves between Seoul and Tokyo will most likely continue.

In such circumstances, the Korean Residents Union in Japan, which has close ties with Seoul, pleaded with Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se to relocate the statue in Busan. According to the association, a compatriot even committed suicide after his business was irrevocably damaged by the dramatic deterioration in Seoul-Tokyo ties. The situation has passed the point of no return.

Needless to say, Imperial Japan deserved to be punished for its abominable crimes of enslaving innocent girls to serve Japanese soldiers at a number of military brothels across Asia. But erecting a statue in front of the consulate as a protest against Japan’s inhumane actions in the past is another matter. The government needs to take into account the serious hardships our compatriots are facing in Japan as a result of the statue’s installation.

But that’s not all. South Korea and Japan need to cooperate with each other more than ever. U.S. President Donald Trump will soon pressure Seoul and Tokyo over disputes about trade and defense cost sharing. Both countries must join hands to prepare for the imminent nuclear threats from North Korea. Given the urgency of tackling those issues, the two sides cannot afford to confront each other.

Our government must come up with an exit strategy to put strained Seoul-Tokyo ties back on track. We urge the government to take advantage of the meetings of G-20 foreign ministers and the Munich Security Conference 2017 — both to be held in Germany this month — to resolve the deepening tension between Seoul and Tokyo.

The Japanese government also needs to keep in mind that Seoul helped resolve friction over the handover of a stolen Buddha statue to Buseoksa Temple — the original owner — and the erection of another statue of comfort women in Dokdo Islets, which Japan claims its territorial rights to. The development could serve as momentum for Tokyo to take a flexible approach. If both sides opt to leave the current stalemate as it is because of their own domestic political needs, that will only damage ties further. They must start to turn things around now.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 8, Page 30
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