Management is improvement
The author is a Tokyo correspondentof the JoongAng Ilbo.
The first Korea-Japan tour of the Biden administration’s defense and state secretaries have come to an end. While some predicted that the United States would play a certain role to improve Korea-Japan relations, it was not addressed as a main issue. Instead, the tour confirmed Korea and Japan have clearly different expectations from each country’s alliance with the United States.
Before the tour schedule of the high-level U.S. officials, some expected that Japan would accept, albeit reluctantly, Korea’s proposal to talk, but it didn’t happen. This means that despite Washington’s pressure, Japan is not changing its stance. Or it could be a message that the United States has no intention to urge Japan to change and understands Japan’s position.
President Joe Biden was the vice president in 2015, when the Korea-Japan “comfort women” agreement was made, and he knows about the process better than anyone. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, then cabinet minister, asked the U.S. Department of State to sign as he needed a guarantor as Korea may break the promise.
Korean Ambassador to Japan Kang Chang-il was posted nearly two months ago and hasn’t met Suga and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi. In a recent meeting with Tokyo correspondents, Ambassador Kang said that he didn’t need to meet the foreign minister or prime minister. But there are rumors that Seoul is not content with Tokyo’s response and is nervous. Some claim that Korea has sent a message to Japan that it is ready to accept everything and Japan only needs to sit at the table.
With a series of seemingly submissive actions by Korea, Japan is getting more arrogant. Japan demands “specific solutions” and is turning down the proposal to meet and discuss solutions without any justification. A source in Tokyo who watched the Korea-Japan relations for a long time pointed out that one side’s willingness to improve the relations wouldn’t work. Considering Japan’s domestic situation, the Suga government cannot accept Korea’s reconciliatory gesture.
It’s time to set up strategies with a long-term perspective. A diplomatic source in Tokyo said that outcomes should not be rushed, and maintaining the current situation is improvement. The source advised that rather than pursuing immediate outcomes, constant effort will be needed for the time when the other side is needed. The essence of diplomacy is to pave the road during normal times for an emergency.
This advice by a senior diplomat should be remembered, “Korea-Japan relations have always had ups and downs, but I have a belief that it is headed in the right direction in the long term.”