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Normalize ties with Tokyo

Apr 01,2019
Former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama proposed the crown prince of Japan should visit South Korea after he becomes the new emperor in May to mend ties between the two neighbors. The process may not be simple, but the visit would help “bilateral relations take leaps,” he told a forum in Seoul on Friday hosted by the Korea Dialogue Academy and International Conference for Peace in East Asia. No emperor of Japan has ever visited Korea.

Hatoyama pointed out that the European Union began with the integration of the coal and steel industries. He recommended a pan-Asian peace community that includes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and three East Asian members Korea, China, and Japan. Haruki Wada, a professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo, stressed the two countries must work to normalize and develop their relationship more than ever.

Hatoyama, prime minister from 2009 to 2010, knelt in front of the Seodaemun Prison History Hall in Seoul in 2015 in a symbolic atonement for war aggressions. The two governments must pay heed to the voices of the veteran Japanese statesman and historian. It may not be easy, but the idea of the new emperor visiting Korea and creating a peace community are worth consideration.

U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Harry Harris relayed last Wednesday U.S. President Donald Trump’s message desiring improvement in Korea-Japan ties for reciprocal benefits to the three allies. Washington has begun to express frustration over the stalemate between its two closest Asian allies after keeping to the sidelines over the last two years. During a meeting Thursday with Japanese businessmen who had been invited among other foreign CEOs to the Blue House, President Moon Jae-in also showed a more proactive attitude, saying economic affairs should not been seen in a political context. His words may indicate a development since Seoul had more or less given up on dialogue with Tokyo after the Japanese government vehemently responded toward the Korean Supreme Court’s rulings on compensations on wartime forced labor. But actions must follow words.

Bilateral trade reached $85.2 billion last year, and over 10 million people have crossed the borders of the two countries. Tokyo’s persistent insistence on sanctions on North Korea helped encourage the Trump administration to walk away from an unsatisfactory deal with North Korea in Hanoi, Vietnam. South Korea would be disadvantaged on both the economic and diplomatic front if it stays unfriendly with Japan. Tokyo likewise needs Seoul to contain North Korea’s nuclear development and keep up leadership in East Asia. The two leaders must meet and find ways to normalize their relationship for mutual benefit.

JoongAng Sunday, March 30-31, Page 34