How to break the deadlock

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How to break the deadlock

The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Kim Eung-yong, a legendary professional baseball manager, lamented the absence of two ace players, — “Dongryeol is gone and Jongbeom is gone”— when the two star players left the Haitai Tigers years back. But I have more anticipation for the exit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump from the international stage, at least when it comes to Korea-Japan relations.

Two weeks ago, National Intelligence Service Director Park Ji-won and National Assembly representatives who are also members to the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union visited Tokyo. Park said that two heads of state are beginning to share the view that the two countries’ relationship should improve, sending positive signals for a potential trilateral Korea-China-Japan summit.

Rep. Kim Jin-pyo, a member of the inter-parliamentary group, made a dramatic suggestion to hold off the forced labor issue for now. Under that kind of “moratorium,” the liquidation of the assets in Korea owned by Japanese companies that were found guilty in a Supreme Court ruling would not be pursued for the time being. Luckily, Korean victims haven’t protested the idea. I have never seen such an aggressive approach since I started working as the Tokyo correspondent three years ago.

But Japan’s response is not that promising. Tokyo has not many any specific offers on how it would like to accommodate the issue of compensating the forced labor victims. Diplomatic analysts say Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with both Park and Kim’s group simply to ease deepening concerns from Washington. Suga only wanted to show U.S. President-elect Joe Biden that Japan did its part.

On the resumption of the director-level government meetings and the visit by high-level Korean officials, a Japanese government source said that they are not related to the resolution of the forced labor issue. Japanese officials said the proposed declaration between Suga and President Moon Jae-in is “unrealistic,” adding that Korea may be offering to help the Tokyo Olympics to use it for North Korea affairs. Local media didn’t forget to publish Suga’s comment that Korea should make a breakthrough.

On Suga’s part, he cannot ignore the Korea-Japan comfort women agreement. Suga, a cabinet minister for Shinzo Abe at the time, watched the whole process. As the comfort women deal he had persuaded Abe to sign was scrapped by the Moon administration, it remains traumatic for him. Improving Korea-the Japan relationship means healing this trauma. We cannot expect it to be resolved at once or clear the distrust completely. That’s why we need a patient and sincere approach.

Fortunately, Suga didn’t mention “violation of the international law” when he met with Korean officials. I hope Japan will take a different approach this time.
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