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The clock is ticking

May 25,2019
The United States has demanded Korea improve relations with Japan. According to Japanese media, U.S. President Donald Trump asked President Moon Jae-in to improve the Seoul-Tokyo ties during his summit in April. Relations have frayed to the extent that Uncle Sam has begun to express concerns about its two key allies in northeast Asia. Trump is worried about the decades-old tripartite alliance — the linchpin of security on the Korean Peninsula.

Despite several disputes over the past, including the former sex slave issue, Korea and Japan have continued to cooperate on security matters. However, following the Korean Supreme Court’s ruling on compensation by Japanese companies for Koreans forced into work during Japanese colonial rule, the situation got worse. After the controversy over a Japanese reconnaissance plane’s threatening flybys on the East Sea and Japan’s refusal to lower its Rising Sun Flag during a naval review in Korea, their relations further deteriorated. Cooperation on military affairs are on the brink of collapse. Military experts warn that the countries may be headed to a clash.

No light is seen at the end of the tunnel. As the Sino-U.S. trade war intensifies, Washington wants to solidify the trilateral alliance. Security experts regard the trade war as the beginning of a new Cold War. The United States will almost certainly increase pressure on Korea to join in the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific strategy, which is strongly backed by Japan.

The Moon Jae-in administration should not sit on its hands. Despite Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon’s promise to discuss effective ways to lessen the Korea-Japan friction, the government has failed to move forward. At times of emergency, Japan’s role is critical because the United Nations Command has a number of its bases in Japan. That’s why America sees Japan as a pivotal country to safeguard Korea from external threats.

Korea must restore its relations with Japan as soon as possible. The government must brace for any possible contingency. Seoul can find a good opportunity in a meeting between the defense ministers of the two countries at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore later this month and the G-20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, next month. It is time for the government to learn lessons from the joint statement issued by President Kim Dae-jung and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi in 1998. The two cut the Gordian knot after relations crossed the point of no return following former President Kim Young-sam’s provocative remarks against Japan.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 25, Page 30