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Get ties back on track (KOR)

Aug 31,2019
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YOON SEOL-YOUNG
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

It is a headache trying to make Korea and Japan reconcile in some way. In fact, some people ask why Korea-Japan relations need to be good. They seem to perceive the aggravated Korea-Japan relations not as a variable but as a constant, and wish to only manage them so they don’t get worse.

Things were different when President Kim Dae-jung and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi announced the Korea-Japan partnership declaration in October 1998. Korea needed Japan’s economic cooperation. It was at a critical juncture of overcoming an IMF rescue package. Today, Korea doesn’t absolutely need Japan’s currency swap, as in the 2008 global financial crisis. Many countries are willing to lend money other than Japan. The Korean financial authorities diagnosed that currency swaps with China and India are enough to respond to emergencies.

Japan is not needed to resolve North Korea’s denuclearization issue either. The Blue House’s special foreign policy adviser Moon Chung-in said in Tokyo in February that as Japan was not a party involved in changing the armistice agreement, there is no role for Japan. Instead, it is Japan that needs Korea’s help in resolving the abductee issue. Japan has to compensate wartime forced labor victims and make sincere apologies to the comfort women victims as well.

But can Tokyo make a sincere apology? Ironically, the Japanese government actively apologized for its wartime past when Korea-Japan relations were good. Prime Minister Naoto Kan issued a statement for the centennial of the forcible annexation of Korea in 2010. If Murayama’s statement in 1995 was a vague message to Asia, Kan’s statement specified Korea and apologized and repented for Japan’s colonial rule. It was a fresh, honest and sincere statement compared to the Kim-Obuchi declaration. It led to the return of 1205 Gyujanggak books, including on Joseon royal court protocol, despite the opposition of the conservatives. It is considered the best time for Korea-Japan relations since 2000.

When public sentiment worsens, no administration can push for an apology. The Japanese civil society bravely calling Japanese companies to follow the Korean Supreme Court’s rulings on forced labor has limitations.

The Korea-Japan comfort women deal is to be scrapped for true restoration of honor for comfort women victims. The Supreme Court ruling was made to restore the rights of the forced labor victims. But the Korea-Japan relationship is going farther from resolution. Not one party is responsible for the aggravation. To realize a resolution for the victims, I call on the government to pursue the improvement of Korea-Japan relations.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 30, Page 28