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Is Japan an important neighbour for S. Korea amid unresolved issues?
Publication Date : 17-08-2013
First, political leaders should make their own efforts to have a direct personal dialogue to restore a relationship of trust between their two nations.
For the first time since taking office, South Korean President Park Geun Hye made a speech marking the country’s day of independence from Japan’s colonial rule.
Park said in the speech that Japan is an important neighbour South Korea can work with to establish peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia, but she added that recent situation over historical issues is darkening the future of the two countries.
Her remark is apparently an expression of distrust toward Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, whose “rightward tilt” South Korea is wary of.
However, Park generally kept her criticism of Japan restrained in her independence day speech.
She moderated her expressions of emotion and avoided direct references to so-called comfort women and the territorial issue over the Takeshima islands. The president might have wanted to avoid further deterioration of South Korea’s relations with Japan.
Even so, Park demanded that Tokyo take tangible action. The Japanese government should take “responsible and sincere measures to alleviate the pain of those who live with suffering and wounds arisen from past history”, she said in the speech.
The comfort women issue is a thorn in the side of Japan-South Korea relations. It is unreasonable that South Korea has ignored the background of the issue and demanded that Japan alone resolve it.
Japan believes that Tokyo and Seoul agreed to resolve the comfort women compensation issue by signing a bilateral agreement on property claims and economic cooperation in 1965. Moreover, the Japanese government has made an effort to fulfill its moral responsibility on the matter.
The government collected donations totaling 600 million yen (US$6.16 million) from the public and set up the Asian Women’s Fund, based on which a relief project for former comfort women was begun, including payments of atonement money.
However, the South Korean side criticized Japan’s effort as avoidance of responsibility. As a result, many of the former comfort women in South Korea did not accept the atonement money, and the fund was disbanded.
Abe, Park should have talks
South Korea has only demanded that Japan make concessions and has refused to have a dialogue or other exchanges. We hope Seoul will change such attitudes.
Meanwhile, Abe opted not to visit Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday but gave a donation from his own pocket to make an offering of a branch of a sacred tree. The prime minister showed a certain consideration for China and South Korea, which are trying to make visits to Yasukuni Shrine a diplomatic issue because Class-A war criminals are enshrined there together with many other war dead. Only three of the Abe Cabinet members visited the shrine.
As Park admitted, Japan and South Korea are important neighbours. However, abnormal situations have continued between them because no meeting of their top leaders has been held since the governments changed in both countries.
The two countries have many significant issues on which they share interests, including joint efforts to deal with North Korea, which persists in developing nuclear weapons, and enhancement of their economic partnership. It would be a problem if their leaders do not talk because Japan and South Korea cannot reach agreements over history and territorial issues. Their attitudes toward improving bilateral relations would be called into question.