Redefining Seoul-Tokyo tiesPresident Moon Jae-in’s special delegation to Japan is having a busy four-day visit. Special envoy Moon Hee-sang met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Cabinet Minister Yoshihide Suga, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Liberal Democratic Party secretary Toshihiro Nikai on May 17 and 18. Suga is Abe’s right-hand man, and Kishida is an LDP faction leader and one of the candidates to become the next prime minister. Nikai is known to value the good-neighbor policy. Overall, Japan is offering a warm welcome to Moon.
It is interesting that neither the Korean nor Japanese sides highlighted the “comfort women” settlement. Moon mentioned the national sentiment instead of insisting upon a renegotiation. Prime Minister Abe adheres to the agreement. They are trying to shelve their disagreements and minimize discord. It would be desirable to find a new vision and come up with a solution within the new frame.
Volatile issues like territorial and history issues have long troubled Korea-Japan waters. With no central axis of future vision and strategy, both countries have been captivated by national sentiments. Public sentiment in low-growth periods often lacks tolerance. In Korea, the self-assertive generation emerged along with enhanced national strength. Laws have begun to get involved in diplomacy. In Japan, history revisionism on the far right became stronger. Seoul and Tokyo have long been busy maintaining the situation. The perception of each worsened. What does Japan mean to Korea, and vice versa? With the new administration beginning, these two countries need to redefine their relationship.
It is noteworthy that Moon mentioned continuing the Korea-Japan Joint Declaration of Partnership in 1998. The declaration by President Kim Dae-jung and Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi was a turning point in bilateral relations. The statement contains Japan’s repentance and apology for colonial occupation. The 1995 Murayama Statement was not limited to Korea. Korea acknowledged Japan’s international contribution after the war. The frame of bilateral exchange and cooperation was set up. Despite the discord and confrontations, the foundation was not shaken because of the cooperation from the 1998 partnership declaration.
The Korea-Japan relations designed in the declaration is a partnership sharing liberal democracy and market economy. The 1965 system prioritized Korea’s economic development and security consideration as it was during the Cold War. The 1998 system has evolved to reflect Korea’s growth and confidence.
Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the partnership declaration. The world has changed, and so has Korea and Japan. The United States has declined, and China has emerged. North Korea’s nuclear possessions are a real threat. Korea and Japan both have the concerns of low birth rates, aging populations and the decline of their non-capital regions. It is a good opportunity to seek cooperative measures for bilateral and multilateral relations involving Korea and Japan.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 20, Page 26
*The author is the Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.