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How to mend stalled Korea-Japan ties
DECEMBER 19, 2013 03:15  
In December every year, like Christmas presents, news from North Korea always surprises us. Two years ago, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died and was succeeded by Kim Jong Un. The North successfully launched long-range ballistic missile last year, and Jang Song Thaek was executed this year, alarming all of us. We have no choice but to keep watching in silence where this Stalinist state is heading.

Then, South Korea and Japan, which share the fear at the closest proximity and must form strong united front, are poised to pass this year without holding a summit meeting. Considering that exactly one year has passed since the rise of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan and election of President Park Geun-hye in Korea, the situation can hardly be deemed normal.

Worse still, the two neighbors came under unexpected attack by China last month. China designated new Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea. The main target is apparently Japan, but it threw cold water to South Korea in its honeymoon ties with China that was formed through President Park뭩 visit to Beijing in June.

In fact, in Japan, Prime Minister Abe and other leaders had expectations after seeing signs of China뭩 attitude towards Japan being eased. Thus, there was an emerging mood in Japan that 밚et뭩 leave Korea for now, and focus efforts on improving ties with China, but such expectation proved misguided. As such, Korea and Japan should become all the more serious about mending their stalled ties. It is important that both sides change their views to ensure that a summit meeting takes place next year. To this end, President Park Geun-hye must generate milestones in Japan뭩 recognition of past history, which Seoul urges Tokyo to improve, and Korean comfort women for the Japanese military, the thorniest issue in relations between the two sides.

Then, what can be done?

Even if Abe made some biased remarks on the recognition of past history, he also actually stated in his speech to Japanese diet that his 밶dministration inherits in entirety the Murayama Statement (1995) by former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, which apologized Japan뭩 past aggression and colonial rule to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Reeval‍uating this statement, President Park could reaffirm with Abe sincerity of his remarks by saying, 밪o, there is no change, right?

It is also good to reaffirm the 밙orea-Japan partnership communique, which the Korean and Japanese leaders exchanged in 1998. In the communique, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi clearly apologized for Japan뭩 colonial rule of Korea by borrowing expressions in the Murayama Statement, and President Kim Dae-jung gave positive assessment and presented a path towards reconciliation. The Japanese prime minister cannot reject to inherit a diplomatic document that the heads of state exchanged in the past. However, it is advised that Korea does not demand Prime Minister Abe a new apology.

The next issue is comfort women for the Japanese military. There were turns and twists in Abe뭩 statements on this, but he recently stated at Japanese parliament that 밒t is heartbreaking to think of people who have bitter and painful memories that are beyond description. Abe is also set to inherit the 1993 statement by Chief Cabinet Minister Yohei Kono, which admitted to the government뭩 involvement and apologized for it.

The issue is whether Japan will make new compensation with a public fund to the aging former Korean comfort women, who rejected compensations from the Asia Women뭩 fund, which was established in Japan in the past. In this regard, it would be helpful for Korea to mention the speech Abe made at the United Nations in September.

Stressing that 밯hat we should be resentful about is the reality that sexual violence against women continues during armed conflicts even in the 21st Century, Abe pledged that Japan will use public fund without fail to prevent such violence and help victims.

In Korea, media harshly criticized his remarks at the time, saying that 밯hat is he talking about, while disregarding the comfort woman issue? but earthly affairs can be taken differently depending on how you think. What if we start discussions by utilizing his remarks this way:

밣rime Minister Abe, it is a great idea. We fully agree with you. However, if you are to prevent damage from sexual violence, let뭩 first resolve the issue of treating the heart of women who have deep pain and suffering from the past. If Seoul makes a suggestion this way, it will likely move Abe뭩 heart without fail. If Abe denies this overture, the credibility of his speeches will lose ground on the international community.

As for the comfort women issue, there are differing views of extreme differences in both Korea and Japan, which have made it all the more difficult to resolve the matter. Unless the governments of the two countries display responsible attitudes from a grandiose perspective, there will be no clue to resolving this matter. If it is not resolved, it would be impossible to console pain and suffering of the former comfort women who are passing away one after another, and will leave cause for serious potential conflict in future ties between Korea and Japan.

Korea and Japan will mark the 50th anniversary of normalization of their ties in one year and a half. The two countries should resolve tangled issues one after another by that occasion as deadline. Only the leaders of the two nations can draw the starting point towards this goal.

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