Toward a turning pointJapanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday announced he was retiring for health reasons, putting an end to his title as the longest-serving Japanese cabinet head, three months short of eight years. Abe used to enjoy huge popularity with his mix of economic stimuli policies dubbed Abenomics that helped revive the world’s third-largest economy after lengthy lethargy.
The rightist statesman, however, irked neighboring countries with his revisionist historical view. He glorified Japanese colonial rule, frequently visited the Yasukuni Shrine that commemorates war deaths, including war criminals connected to World War II, and took retaliatory trade sanctions on Korea by defining the court orders demanding wartime forced labor compensation by Japanese companies as simply a “violation of international agreement.”
The left-leaning Korean government has capitalized on Koreans’ innate anti-Japan sentiments to keep up its hostile policy toward Tokyo. Bilateral relations have become the worst since the two countries normalized ties in 1965. The bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) is on the brink of collapse. Upon court rulings, Japanese companies’ assets remaining in Korea could be liquidated from Aug. 4 under lawsuits, serving as a new ticking bomb on the bilateral relationship.
The earlier-than-expected retirement of Abe must provide momentum to restore the two countries’ strained ties. Diplomatic experts say that a new Japanese prime minister won’t likely differ much from Tokyo’s current stance on wartime forced labor compensation and other key issues. Tokyo remains steadfast that the wartime compensation issue is a done deal with the basic treaty in 1965.
The Moon Jae-in administration must employ a two-track policy of carrying out negotiations on past issues while striving for immediate resolution on trade and security issues. Korea and Japan are two democracies in northeast Asia and allies to the United States. The two must coexist. Cooperation is essential amid worsening conflict between the United States and China.
Seoul must try to restore ties with a future-oriented perspective. In an address on our Liberation Day on Aug. 15, President Moon said he was ready to sit down with the Japanese government any time. The Blue House announced its cooperation with a new Japanese prime minister after Abe’s resignation. Tokyo also must show sincere attitudes toward an improved bilateral relationship with honest atonement on Japan’s past aggressions.