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Publication Date : 19-12-2013
It may be understandable that Japanese sentiment toward South Korea, like the Korean attitude toward Japan, has been deteriorating amid longstanding disputes between the two countries over historical and territorial issues. But the results of a recent survey conducted by a Japanese newspaper and Gallup showed it was far worse than officials and commentators here had thought.
The poll found that only 16 per cent of Japanese citizens trusted South Korea, while 72 per cent did not trust it at all. Respondents also ranked South Korea as the third-highest military threat to their country behind China and North Korea. This was the first time that Japanese perceived South Korea as more threatening than Russia since the annual survey began in 2000. The proportion of Japanese citizens who regard South Korea as a military threat more than doubled from 20 per cent in 2006 to the current level of 45 per cent.
This negative sentiment toward South Korea among the Japanese public further raises the need for Seoul and Tokyo to improve ties and forge a strategic partnership, which is essential for maintaining peace and stability in Northeast Asia.
Japanese conservative politicians, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, appear to have fanned the negative perceptions through their nationalistic approaches to mutual issues with Seoul, provoking strong criticism from the South Korean government and people. Abe has repeatedly called for summit talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye to mend bilateral ties. If he is serious about the offer, he should refrain from further provoking South Korea and take more concrete conciliatory moves.
For her part, Park may also need to take a step back from her principled position that sincere repentance from Tokyo for its colonial-era wrongdoings should precede a meeting. Her rigid stance may have had the inadvertent effect of helping Japan’s right-wing forces reduce the amount of conscientious expression in Japanese civil society.
Park and Abe should adopt a forward-looking perspective and realise that they share the responsibility for deepening the level of understanding and trust between their people.