Genuine partnership between Seoul and Tokyo is a goal worth pursuing
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.