| In 1965, Korea and Japan signed the Treaty for Basic Relations, re-establishing normal diplomatic relations after Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule in 1945. The breakthrough came after 14 years of tortuous negotiations, and the heroes were Korea`s Foreign Affairs Minister Lee Dong-won and Japanese counterpart Etsusaburo Shiina. What would the two people be talking about if they met in heaven?
Lee: It`s good to see you again.
Shiina: Hello, Minister Lee. You are about the same age as my son, but you are already here in heaven.
Lee: I was in my 30s then. I have been here for the last seven years.
Shiina: Back then, President Park Chung-hee was in his 40s. Both of you were young and enthusiastic.
Lee: You were a veteran tycoon. You had come to Seoul, where rallies opposing "disgraced diplomatic relations" were heating up, and read statement at Kimpo Airport. It is regretful that we had the unfortunate times. It was a historical event."
Shiina: What I stated then would be nothing particular if it read it now. Well, I was nervous because it was the first apology from Japan.
Lee: Despite internal opposition in Japan, you pushed it through saying that "making an apology is necessary."
Shiina: On my way to the hotel, however, protesters shouted "Go back" and "We oppose to humiliating diplomacy" and people threw eggs on the car I was in.
Lee: You endured. You showed how much you were determined and how big you were thinking.
Shiina: Please don`t praise me too much. You were also going through difficulty.
Lee: Still, President Park Chung-hee had demonstrated resolution and wanted compromise to be reached.
Shiina: The president was full of vigor. Still he acted very humbly when he came to Japan several years ago to meet Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda.
Lee: He asked very courteously for support. Though the president got criticism in Korea for humiliating diplomacy, he still acted humbly for the sake of the future of his country that was in a poor and devastated state.
Shiina: The president gave a polite, but firm and trustworthy impression. Japanese politicians at about the same age came to think they should make a breakthrough after meeting the president.
Lee: Diplomacy is about communicating. Well, you had the touch of humanity. I remember when talks stalled in Seoul, you opened Cognac and said "Let`s have some drink."
Shiina: Haha. Well, since we were suffering hardships, we needed some refresh.
Lee: Japan could not accept our claims that Japan`s forced annexation of Korea in 1910 was invalid, and Korea is the only legitimate government on the Korean Peninsula. The Dokdo issue was also a difficult matter.
Shiina: The talks didn`t go through well during the four-day process. Ultimately, however, we collected our thoughts and reached an agreement at the last minute.
Lee: You didn`t hesitate though Prime Minister Eisaku Sato had not approved.
Shiina: Getting approval in such a time restraint was hard. Walking on eggshells can`t guarantee performing big things. Someone had to take the bullet.
Lee: Thanks to you, we made diplomatic relations and through economic cooperation, realized the Miracle of Han River. Recently, the Korean Wave has seen a setback in Japan because Korea-Japan relations are in a severe situation due to a mix of problems.
Shiina: The treaty was the fruit of tortuous negotiations and accompanied contradictions and complaints. Well, 50 years have passed and it would be inevitable to see conflicts. But complementing them will require the wisdom of politics and foreign policy.
Lee: Everyone has their own opinions these days. Korea and Japan fighting at United Nations show concerns that time has gone back to the past.
Shiina: This is making muff of ourselves to the world. Former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, who is a close senior of mine, had devoted himself on Korea-Japan relations. He must feel ashamed to see his grandson.
Lee: I wonder how late former President Park Chung-hee would think of his stubborn daughter.
Shiina: I haven`t met both of them for a long time. I want to have a drink with them.
Lee: So many people are here in heaven. Let`s find them anyway.
※ This story was written based on books including "Behind Stories of Signing of Korea-Japan Treaty" by Lee Dong-won