Gen­uine part­ner­ship be­tween Seoul and Tokyo is a goal worth pur­su­ing

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

South Korea For­eign Min­is­ter Yun Byung-se will make a two­day trip to Ja­pan start­ing Sun­day.

It will be the first visit by South Korea’s top diplo­mat to the neigh­bor­ing coun­try since the launch of Pres­i­dent Park Geun- hye’s ad­min­is­tra­tion in Fe­bru­ary 2013.

In the past few years, SeoulTokyo ties have re­mained at their low­est ebb since the two sides re­stored diplo­matic re­la­tions five decades ago.

Ja­pan Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s his­toric revisionism, which glosses over Ja­pan’s past wrong­do­ings, is mainly re­spon­si­ble for the strained re­la­tion­ship.

In par­tic­u­lar, his cab­i­net’s backpedal­ing on the is­sue of the wartime sex­ual en­slave­ment of Korean women for im­pe­rial Ja­panese sol­diers has held back the two coun­tries from mov­ing for­ward and deep­en­ing their part­ner­ship.

But it may be fair to say the Park ad­min­is­tra­tion has also lacked ef­forts to make a break­through in the frayed ties with Ja­pan from a fu­ture- ori­ented per­spec­tive.

The im­por­tance of strength­en­ing co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries re­quires it to go be­yond stay­ing in tune with public sen­ti­ment.

It is strate­gi­cally wise and re­al­is­ti­cally in­evitable for Seoul to seek to de­cou­ple his­tor­i­cal dis­putes with Tokyo from eco­nomic and se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion.

En­hanced part­ner­ship be­tween the two coun­tries would con­trib­ute to boost­ing re­gional sta­bil­ity and pros­per­ity.

Dur­ing his stay in Tokyo, Yun will hold talks with his Ja­panese coun­ter­part Fumio Kishida on Sun­day be­fore at­tend­ing an event to be held at South Korea’s em­bassy the fol­low­ing day to mark the 50th an­niver­sary of nor­mal­ized bi­lat­eral ties.

His visit is to be re­cip­ro­cated with a trip by Abe’s spe­cial en­voy to Seoul, who will join a sep­a­rate an­niver­sary event to be hosted by the Ja­panese am­bas­sador here.

At­ten­tion is be­ing drawn to whether this ex­change of vis­its will lay the ground for the first sum­mit be­tween Park and Abe, which would be seen as a defin­ing mo­ment in putting bi­lat­eral re­la­tions back on track.

Seoul of­fi­cials seem to be try­ing to lower ex­pec­ta­tions about Yun’s forth­com­ing trip to Tokyo. A For­eign Min­istry of­fi­cial said this week on con­di­tion of anonymity that his visit was part of ef­forts to “build mu­tual trust on a grad­ual ba­sis.”

True, Ja­panese of­fi­cials have re­mained cau­tious in re­spond­ing to Park’s re­cent re­marks that the two sides have made “con­sid­er­able progress” in ne­go­ti­a­tions over Tokyo’s re­spon­si­bil­ity for co­erc­ing Korean women into sex­ual servi­tude dur­ing World War II, when the penin­sula was un­der Ja­panese colo­nial rule.

Still, South Korea and Ja­pan should try to main­tain the re­cent mo­men­tum to set their ties on a for­ward-look­ing course that would bring mu­tual ben­e­fits.

It should be noted that while neg­a­tive public sen­ti­ment against each other has risen over the past years, calls for im­proved bi­lat­eral re­la­tions are also in­creas­ing in both coun­tries.

In a re­cent joint sur­vey by South Korean and Ja­panese dailies, 87 per­cent of Korean re­spon­dents and 64 per­cent of Ja­panese ex­pressed hope to see im­prove­ment in re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries.

A state­ment Abe plans to is­sue in Au­gust on the 70th an­niver­sary of Ja­pan’s de­feat in WWII will hold the key to whether South Korea and Ja­pan can move for­ward to usher in an era of gen­uine friend­ship and part­ner­ship. This is an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished by the Korea Her­ald on June 20.

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