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Does Park intend to improve S. Korea’s relations with Japan?
Publication Date : 04-10-2013
Considering South Korean President Park Geun Hye’s recent statements, we cannot help doubting whether she intends to improve relations with Japan.
In her talks with US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, who spoke to her about the importance of security cooperation among Japan, South Korea and the United States, she criticised Japan, saying, “Trust has not been established due to the [Japanese] leadership, which has repeatedly made regressive remarks” on historical and territorial issues.
Japan-South Korea relations have rapidly deteriorated since last summer, when then President Lee Myung Bak visited the Takeshima islands and made a statement demanding the Emperor apologise for Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. Even after the administration in both countries changed, bilateral relations have been chilly.
Park’s statement that the responsibility for the situation lies with Japan is extremely one-sided. She was also barking up the wrong tree in saying so to a ranking US official.
Concerning the so-called comfort women issue, Park said, “Japan has levelled insults against them rather than offering an apology.” We think she is operating under a misconception.
Based on her understanding of the bilateral situation, she said it is difficult to have summit talks with Japan, unless Japan shows a “sincere attitude”. By doing so, she established de facto conditions for holding talks. This is problematic, too. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he always keeps an open door for dialogue.
On its independence movement day in March, just after her inauguration, Park demanded Japan “have a correct understanding of history and take an attitude of responsibility.” She even clearly said, “The hostile dynamic of one party being a perpetrator and the other party a victim will remain unchanged even after 1,000 years have passed.”
Such statements damage the significance of a statement made in 1965 by her father, then President Park Chung Hee, when Japan-South Korean diplomatic relations were normalised: that South Korea and Japan had been enemies, but it was a thing of the past.
It is questionable that Park has been pursuing diplomacy that is particularly focused on Japan’s perception of history.
During her meeting with US President Barack Obama in May, she said Japan needs to have a correct recognition of history. During her speech to the US Congress, she said, “Those who are blind to the past cannot see the future.”
In June, during a lunch meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, she proposed the establishment of a memorial to Korean independence activist An Jung Geun, who assassinated Hirobumi Ito, the first resident general of Korea under Japan’s colonial rule, at Harbin Station in China’s Heilongjiang Province in 1909. She praised An as a historical figure respected by the peoples of South Korea and China.
Such statements by Park have inflamed anti-Japanese nationalism in her country. During a soccer game between the Japanese and South Korean national teams in June, a huge image of An Jung Geun and a banner reading “A nation that forgets its history has no future” appeared in the South Korean supporters’ seats. This incident must be related to Park’s statements.
In South Korea, two court rulings have been handed down in damages suits in favor of former South Korean workers forcibly employed by Japanese companies during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. Such rulings are considered violations of the 1965 bilateral agreement on claims rights. This situation is shaking Japan-South Korean relations, which were normalised decades ago.
There are many issues that must be jointly tackled by the leaders of Japan and South Korea, such as the nuclear threat from North Korea and how to deal with China, which has been expanding its military and economic power. It is impossible to build a relationship of mutual trust if Park sticks to rehashing settled issues from the past, rather than establishing future-oriented relations.