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Tripartite meeting a good start to improve Japan-South Korea ties

Publication Date : 20-03-2014

 

Japan, the United States and South Korea are considering holding a meeting among their leaders on the sidelines of the two-day Nuclear Security Summit that starts in the Netherlands on Monday. We urge the three countries to do so, as it could help break the impasse in Japan-South Korea relations.

During a session of the House of Councillors Budget Committee on Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his Cabinet would not review a 1993 statement by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono on so-called comfort women. He also stressed that his Cabinet would accept the historical views of past administrations, including a 1995 statement issued by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.

It was significant that South Korean President Park Geun-hye reacted positively the following day, saying it was “fortunate” Abe made these remarks. We hope the South Korean president will next make a positive decision on the summit talks.

The Kono statement is flawed in many ways. No documents have been found to prove the assertion that comfort women were forcibly recruited by the former Imperial Japanese Army. There are allegations that the wording of the Kono statement was coordinated between Tokyo and Seoul.

This led Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to say that the process of how the Kono statement was made should be examined. Abe himself has doubts on the contents of the Kono statement, and has intentionally avoided giving his opinion.

Despite his stance, Abe chose not to review the Kono statement. We believe he has made a political decision from a broad standpoint. The prime minister apparently placed priority on preparing the way to hold a trilateral meeting, taking into account South Korea’s antipathy toward moves to review the Kono statement.

US mediation efforts

The US government is increasing its mediation efforts to help improve Japan-South Korea relations ahead of President Barack Obama’s trip to Japan and South Korea next month. Such moves also likely influenced Abe’s decision not to review the Kono statement.

It is natural for the Obama administration to be concerned about relations between two important Asian allies, as a lack of cooperation between Japan and South Korea would cast a dark shadow over the Obama administration’s policy to pivot toward Asia.

Japan-South Korea relations have become exceptionally chilly—the two countries have yet to hold a bilateral summit meeting since Park took office in February 2013.

Park has repeatedly criticised Japan during her meetings with leaders of the United States and European countries, criticism that has been called “tattletale diplomacy”. Her extreme anti-Japan stance has had adverse effects on various fields, from ministerial meetings to working-level cooperation and public opinion in both countries.

There are a number of issues Japan and South Korea should cooperate on.

For example, the security of northeast Asia is deteriorating because of such factors as North Korea’s nuclear development programmes and other military provocations, as well as China’s rapid military buildup and maritime expansion. Talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Japan-South Korea free trade agreement are also urgent issues that must be tackled.

Nations often face bilateral problems that are difficult to resolve. When such a situation arises, state leaders and diplomatic officials have an obligation to tenaciously hold talks and seek compromises to ensure that problems do not ruin bilateral relations.

We urge both Japan and South Korea to act responsibly and think carefully about what to do next. The trilateral summit meeting among Japan, the United States and South Korea would be a good start.

 

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