[Column] Improved relations are the priority now

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[Column] Improved relations are the priority now

Sakong Il
The author is honorary chairman of the Institute for Global Economics.

The existing global security and economic order is rapidly disintegrating and reorganizing as the hegemony competition between the United States and China accelerates each day. Especially in the Indo-Pacific region, the 13-member Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), the Quad security dialogue among the U.S., Japan, India and Australia and the Aukus security alliance of Australia, the UK and the United States have already started.

In Northeast Asia, the supply chain for cutting-edge products, including semiconductors, is quickly reshaping. Furthermore, as this region faces a serious security crisis due to North Korea’s nuclear threats, it is inevitable to upgrade the existing security cooperation systems between South Korea and the U.S.; Japan and the U.S.; and among South Korea, Japan and the U.S.

Therefore, improving Korea-Japan relations — the weak link of the trilateral cooperation — has emerged as a mandatory task, not a choice. It is also noteworthy that the reorganization of the supply chains and the economic system is being done among the countries that share the values of liberal democracy and the market economy, rather than the previous framework of comprehensive multilateralism.

Then, how long will the U.S.-China contest for supremacy continue after it played a key role in major changes in world history? In 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping presented a vision of the “China Dream,” declaring that China will become the world’s most powerful country in terms of global influence — particularly military power — by 2049, in time for the 100th anniversary of the foundation of new China established by the Chinese Communist Party. Since then, a Chinese-style grand journey followed.

Initially, the goal of China Dream did not seem entirely unattainable. As the U.S.-China supremacy competition grew fierce, a battle to have the upper hand in cutting-edge technology — a key to reinforcing the military power of the U.S. and Western countries — has intensified. As a result, supply chains for those products are being revamped to the disadvantage of China.
In addition to the changes of the global economy and security climate, Chinese-style state capitalism is leaning toward Communist ideology and nationalism led by Xi rather than respecting the market and efficiency. Considering such circumstances, China will likely have to spend much longer in its journey to accomplish the China Dream. But what we must never forget is that a more intense hegemony contest will continue even after China realizes the dream. As a result, the global economy, trade and security systems will become more unstable.

Taking into account the economic and security climate changes in the world, improving Korea-Japan relations is a must to strengthen economic and security cooperation between the two countries as well as among Korea, Japan and America. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is the mission of our times for both the Korean and Japanese governments.

We need to redefine our basic stance to approach Japan as Korea’s economic, security and global leadership partner. It was also timely that the Yoon Suk Yeol administration announced its initiative to improve the bilateral ties, including a plan to compensate the wartime forced labor victims, an issue which has persistently hindered any improvement of their relations.

The problem is the government’s ability to persuade the people. Opinion polls show that seven out of 10 Koreans accepted the need for better relations between the two countries. And yet, various polls show that a majority of Koreans had a negative opinion about the compensation plan through a Korea-led fund, which was recently proposed by the Yoon administration.

In the past, Japan issued refined apologies in rhetoric. But it is also true that none of its apologies were as sincere and touching as the move of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt who fell to his knees at the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto during his visit to Poland on Dec. 7, 1970.

Many Japanese believe that no further concession should be made to Korea, as it “overturned bilateral agreements whenever there was a change of administration.” But I look forward to a meaningful response by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to Yoon’s initiative at the upcoming Korea-Japan summit, as the rest of the world, including the U.S., is paying special attention to the meeting. The Japanese government can make a bold decision to use the summit as an opportunity to elevate its national prestige so that it can exert influence and leadership in international community as a “normal country,” just like Germany after 1970.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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