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Lee Myung-bak's remarks could paralyse Japan-South Korea relations

Publication Date : 17-08-2012


No matter how much South Korea stresses it wants a "future-oriented" relationship with Japan, Seoul's diplomacy toward Tokyo always hits a snag due to historical perceptions and territorial issues.

It seems that South Korean President Lee Myung Bak was unable to escape from this pattern, which has been repeated by his country's previous administrations.

Following his visit to the Takeshima islands last week, Lee indicated Tuesday that an apology from the bottom of the Emperor's heart to independence activists is a condition for the Emperor to visit South Korea.

We have to say Lee's remark is unbecoming to the head of a Japanese ally. We are concerned that the Japan-South Korea relationship, which cooled due to Lee's Takeshima visit, will deteriorate further and the estrangement will be prolonged.

It is very irresponsible for Lee, who has only six months left in his term, to commit himself with words and actions that could create problems for the future bilateral relationship.

After Japan and South Korea normalised diplomatic relations in 1965, former South Korean presidents, starting with Chun Doo Hwan in 1984, visited Japan and met with the Emperor. In 1990, Seoul formally invited the Emperor to visit South Korea.

President changes tune

Lee himself invited the Emperor to visit his country while he was on an official visit to Japan in 2008. He also showed eagerness to realise the Emperor's visit to South Korea in 2010, the centennial year of Japan's annexation of Korea.

It has been reported that Lee went so far as to say during a meeting with a group of schoolteachers, "The Emperor doesn't need [to visit South Korea] if he is coming just to express his 'deepest regret.'" Lee was apparently referring to a term used by the Emperor at a banquet at the Imperial Palace for then South Korean President Roh Tae Woo during his visit to Japan 22 years ago.

The side that invited the Emperor set a condition afterward and said he does not need to come if the condition is not met. Such an attitude is extremely impolite.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Lee's remark was "hard to understand and regrettable." Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said, "Making unconstructive remarks goes against South Korea's own interests."

It is only natural that the Japanese government lodged a protest with the South Korean government.

It is desirable for the Emperor's visit to South Korea to be realised in a way that it can be accepted naturally by the people of the two countries. As a result, there is no option but to shelve a possible visit by the Emperor to South Korea for the time being.

'Comfort women' issue settled

In a speech Wednesday during a ceremony to commemorate Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule, Lee reiterated his demand that the Japanese government take "responsible measures" on the issue of so-called comfort women.

Against the backdrop of South Korean public opinion, Lee has urged Noda to apologise to victims and pay compensation. But as far as the right to claim compensation is concerned, it was fully and finally settled when the two countries normalised diplomatic ties.

When it comes to territorial and comfort women issues, Japan and South Korea must calmly discuss history based on accurate facts.


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