Repairing relations with Japan

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Repairing relations with Japan


Choi Sang-yong
The author is a former Korean ambassador to Japan.

How can we create a breakthrough to improve deteriorating Korea-Japan relations? There is no answer that the people of the two countries will both support, and priorities will vary depending on the individuals, but the following are three possible resolutions.

First is the issue of Japan’s apology and reflection for its past military aggression. The Murayama Statement is the Korean people’s favorite reflection by Japan. But many do not know that the 1998 joint declaration by then-Korean President Kim Dae-jung and then-Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi includes a more specific and reasonable clause on history. The Murayama Statement was an apology issued to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama.

He addressed the world, particularly Asian nations, and expressed his “feelings of deep remorse” and a “heartfelt apology.”

The joint declaration by Kim and Obuchi more specifically stated Japan’s deep remorse and apology for its colonial rule of Korea. It was the first agreement signed by the prime minister of Japan and the president of South Korea. In this agreement, the two countries’ leaders confirmed historical issues that were neglected in the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and Korea, and it was supported by the ruling and opposition politicians in both countries and the two countries’ people.

The clause on history in the joint declaration is the best that the Korean people can accept. It is the standard to resolve historical issues and is also the cornerstone for future-oriented Korea-Japan relations.

The second resolution is the urgent rebuilding of trust between the leaders of Korea and Japan. They must meet to build trust.

During the trust-building process, they must recognize the national interests of each other, and serious negotiations must take place at the working level to solve issues of forced laborers and sex slavery while considering public sentiment. For future-oriented diplomacy, they must find common ground and cooperate. A two-track policy must be implemented.

For example, cooperation to normalize North Korea-Japan relations will set a great precedent of cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo that will contribute peace on the Korean Peninsula. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he wants to have an unconditional summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The South Korean government also supports North-Japan normalization efforts.

U.S. President Donald Trump has also said during his summit with Abe that he will cooperate with Japan’s plan for a summit with the North.

Abe had already visited Pyongyang twice in 2002, accompanying-then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and participating in the negotiation for the Pyongyang Declaration.

He has said normalizing relations with the North is one of his tasks while he is in office. Although the abduction issue is an obstacle, Abe and Kim are people who have the ability to resolve the issue and normalize relations at the same time.

For denuclearization of the North and peace of the peninsula, President Moon Jae-in and Abe can always cooperate.

Third is the economic and cultural exchanges between South Korea and Japan. When the economic dependency is high, the possibility is also high for peace and cooperation. Even when Korea and Japan had serious history disputes, they continued economic exchanges. Therefore, stalled economic exchanges must be restored as soon as possible.

Just like the theory of peace based on economic exchanges, I have long promoted the theory of peace through cultural exchanges. This was realized when Korea opened up its market to Japan’s pop culture as promised in the Kim-Obuchi Joint Declaration.

Korea-Japan relations worsened due to the textbook issues in the past, but 2005 was designated as the Year of Friendship. I served as the chairman of the Korean committee to stimulate cultural exchanges and annual cultural festivals took place.

Relations were worsened further last year over the comfort women issue, but massive cultural festivals took place in Seoul and Tokyo and youngsters from the two countries enthusiastically participated. The continuing cultural exchanges between the two countries served as a lesson that contributes to build peace.

Japan now enters the era of Reiwa. The peace of Reiwa era contains the ideology of peace from the people of the ancient Korean kingdom of Baekje from the seventh century, according to Susumu Nakanishi, professor emeritus in Japanese literature at Osaka Women’s University, who proposed the name.

In the future, the relations between Korea and Japan should mature to peacefully resolve pending issues by using their cooperation to denuclearize of the North and boost economic and cultural exchanges.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 13, Page 32
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