As Ja­pan-South Korea re­la­tions cool, an­tag­o­nism lim­its diplo­matic op­tions

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Due to dif­fer­ences in views over is­sues re­lated to his­tor­i­cal per­cep­tions and words or deeds of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers of both coun­tries, a struc­ture of mu­tual dis­trust be­tween Ja­pan and South Korea is tak­ing hold.

As a joint public opin­ion sur­vey con­ducted re­cently by The Yomi­uri Shimbun and The Hankook Ilbo shows, this is a crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion for both sides.

The sur­vey found that 73 per­cent of Ja­panese think South Korea is not trust­wor­thy, ty­ing a pre­vi­ous sur­vey re­sult posted last year and mark­ing a record high for two years in a row. In South Korea, 85 per­cent of pollees said Ja­pan is not trust­wor­thy.

In the bi­lat­eral sur­veys taken from the 1990s up to 2011, par­tic­u­larly con­spic­u­ous was dis­trust of Ja­pan among South Kore­ans. In re­cent years, how­ever, Ja­panese have been view­ing South Korea with an in­creas­ingly crit­i­cal eye. Re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries are in a new phase.

The ma­jor turn­ing point in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions prob­a­bly came in 2012, when then South Korean Pres­i­dent Lee Myung Bak made an un­prece­dented visit to the Takeshima is­lands and de­manded an “apol­ogy by the Em­peror.”

Lee has nei­ther with­drawn his de­mand nor apol­o­gized to Ja­pan since then.

The Han­ryu boom for Korean popular cul­ture that once swept across Ja­pan cre­ated a sense of affin­ity here, but that has now faded, re­placed by a neg­a­tive back­lash.

Cur­rent South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye has called on Ja­pan to present so­lu­tions to the is­sue of so-called com­fort women as a pre­con­di­tion for hold­ing a sum­mit meet­ing with Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe. South Korea’s uni­lat­eral call for con­ces­sions from Ja­pan is fu­el­ing anti-Korean sen­ti­ment among Ja­panese.

Ex­tremely wide gaps be­tween the two coun­tries over is­sues re­lated to his­tor­i­cal per­cep­tions cast a dark shadow over diplo­matic re­la­tions.

Di­verg­ing Views

Re­gard­ing Ja­panese prime min­is­ters’ apolo­gies to South Korea over Ja­pan’s colo­nial rule of the Korean Penin­sula, 76 per­cent of Ja­panese said they think the apolo­gies made so far are “suf­fi­cient,” while only 4 per­cent of South Kore­ans re­sponded so.

Re­gard­ing the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to ad­dress the sub­ject of the com­fort women, 54 per­cent of Ja­panese re­spon­dents said they ap­proved of them, while only 3 per­cent of South Kore­ans said like­wise.

The Ja­panese gov­ern­ment has taken the po­si­tion that the is­sue of the right to claim repa­ra­tions, in­clud­ing those per­tain­ing to com­fort women, has been legally set­tled be­tween the two coun­tries.

On that ba­sis, the gov­ern­ment has pro­vided atone­ment money, to­gether with a prime min­is­te­rial let­ter of apol­ogy, to 61 for­mer com­fort women from South Korea, through the Asian Women’s Fund it es­tab­lished in 1995. The gov­ern­ment has also given them med­i­cal and wel­fare sup­port with public funds.

Yet the South Korean gov­ern­ment, go­ing along with pri­vate groups that are tena­ciously try­ing to es­tab­lish the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Ja­pan as a state, has not ac­tively pub­li­cized th­ese ef­forts made by Ja­pan. This may be one rea­son why an­tiJa­panese sen­ti­ment among peo­ple in South Korea has not eased.

Dur­ing her meet­ing on June 1 with vis­it­ing Ja­panese of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Yoshiro Mori, Park made a point of men­tion­ing that the num­ber of for­mer com­fort women who are still alive has dropped to 52. With­out clar­i­fy­ing what she specif­i­cally meant, Park called on the Ja­panese side to ex­pe­dite its ef­fort “to re­store the honor” of for­mer com­fort women.

Masatoshi Muto, a for­mer Ja­panese am­bas­sador to South Korea, writes in a new book about the spread­ing anti-Korean sen­ti­ment among Ja­panese. He wrote that it stems from South Korea’s re­peated de­mands for Ja­pan to apol­o­gize, which re­flects the think­ing that: “We are the one who is right. So Ja­pan ought to fol­low us.”

Isn’t the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, in which “anti-Ja­panese sen­ti­ment” among South Kore­ans and “an­tiKorean sen­ti­ment” among Ja­panese have be­come a nor­mal state of af­fairs, nar­row­ing the range of pol­icy op­tions that lead­ers of both coun­tries could take? This is an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished by The Yomi­uri Shimbun on June 10.

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