Step in the right directionIn a meeting on Thursday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his office in Tokyo, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon reached consensus on the need to bring a thaw to the iced-over diplomatic relations between the two countries. It was the highest-level meeting of officials from the neighboring countries since Korea’s Supreme Court rulings last October and November ordering compensation for Korean workers forced into labor during World War II. Stressing the need to cooperate for peace and stability in Northeast Asia, Lee delivered a letter from President Moon Jae-in, who proposed joint efforts to resolve their discord as soon as possible.
The meeting itself carried significance as it confirmed the importance of relations between the countries, which are at their worst level since normalization of ties in 1965. The meeting was defined as a “face-to-face talk” earlier but was escalated to a “summit” by Japan. The summit was initially scheduled for about 10 minutes but went on for 21 minutes. Such developments testify to the need for dialogue.
Abe made some encouraging remarks. “We cannot leave the current situation unattended,” he said. In regard to the Supreme Court’s rulings — the core of the diplomatic stalemate — Abe stuck to Tokyo’s previous position that a treaty between two states should be kept no matter what — referring to the 1965 Korea-Japan claims settlement agreement. But he left room for a diplomatic solution by proposing a continued dialogue.
In return, Lee said that Korea has respected the pact since 1965 and will do so in the future. Tokyo attacked Seoul for “trying to nullify the treaty after the top court’s ruling” and “being a country that does not observe an interstate agreement.” Therefore, Lee made appropriate remarks about the need to negotiate through reasonable dialogue.
Of course, relations can hardly be restored through one short meeting. Ties will deteriorate to an irrecoverable level if Seoul decides to scrap the General Security of Military Information (Gsomia) agreement with Tokyo and starts liquidating Japanese companies’ assets in Korea to compensate Korean workers.
It all depends on Moon and Abe. Abe must withdraw his government’s economic retaliations and sincerely apologize for colonial rule and forced labor. In return, Moon should declare that Korea will not accept Japan’s reparations in cash if Tokyo genuinely regrets and apologizes, followed by a decision to extend the Gsomia.