Ja­pan, South Korea mark 50-year treaty


For­eign min­is­ters from Ja­pan and South Korea held a rare meet­ing Sun­day on the eve of the 50th an­niver­sary since their coun­tries nor­mal­ized re­la­tions marred by Ja­pan’s col­o­niza­tion and World War II con­quest.

Yet, the ties be­tween the most im­por­tant U.S. al­lies in Asia are so low that one hoped-for out­come of the meet­ing is an agree­ment for the coun­tries’ lead­ers to just show up at Mon­day’s cer­e­monies in their re­spec­tive cap­i­tals, in­stead of ex­chang­ing writ­ten state­ments.

“It’s a grave sit­u­a­tion, and what’s more se­ri­ous is that Ja­pan’s diplo­macy to­ward South Korea has turned harsher against the back­drop of public sen­ti­ment,” said Junya Nishino, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at Keio Univer­sity.

Yun Byung-se’s visit Sun­day was the first by a South Korean for­eign min­is­ter since 2011. Yun and his Ja­panese coun­ter­part, Fumio Kishida, shook hands but made no com­ment dur­ing the sev­eral min­utes of media cov­er­age at the out­set of their highly sen­si­tive talks. They were ex­pected to dis­cuss Ja­pan’s sex­ual en­slave­ment of Korean women and other out­stand­ing is­sues re­lated to wartime history. Yun is set to meet with Ja­pan’s Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe on Mon­day be­fore at­tend­ing an­niver­sary events in Tokyo.

Ac­cord­ing to a poll by Ja­panese news­pa­per Asahi and South Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo, pub­lished Satur­day, more than half of the re­spon­dents in both coun­tries say their im­age of the other side has wors­ened in the past five years.

The poll also found that 87 per­cent of South Kore­ans feel strongly about bet­ter re­la­tions with their neigh­bor, com­pared to 64 per­cent in Ja­pan.

“Trust be­tween Ja­pan and South Korea has been largely lost, and it’s not easy to re­store it right away,” said Nishino.

Abe and South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye have yet to hold fully fledged bi­lat­eral talks since tak­ing of­fice in 2012 and 2013, re­spec­tively. Washington has been con­cerned about its al­lies’ strained re­la­tions.

They are rooted in Ja­pan’s col­o­niza­tion of Korea, from 1910 to the end of World War II. The re­la­tions im­proved in the late 1990s, fol­low­ing Ja­panese apolo­gies, cul­tural ex­changes and a Korean pop cul­ture boom in the 2000s, but nose­dived a few years ago largely be­cause of dif­fer­ences over their shared history.

Many Kore­ans still re­mem­ber Ja­pan’s 35-year col­o­niza­tion as the era of bru­tal­ity and hu­mil­i­a­tion, dur­ing which they were forced to use Ja­panese names and lan­guage while their pride, her­itage and sense of iden­tity were se­verely threat­ened. Af­ter ties were nor­mal­ized, three more decades passed be­fore Seoul of­fi­cially al­lowed Ja­panese films and other pop­u­lar cul­ture back into the coun­try.

A down­turn started in 2012, when then- South Korean Pres­i­dent Lee Myung-bak vis­ited a clus­ter of Seoul­con­trolled islets also claimed by Ja­pan.

As public sen­ti­ment soured, eth­nic Kore­ans in Ja­pan, many of whom de­scen­dants of forced la­bor­ers, be­came tar­get of racial in­sults by right-wing ex­trem­ists.

Anti-Korean books and mag­a­zines have be­come book­store sta­ples, while Korean pop idols who once dom­i­nated Ja­panese TV shows have largely dis­ap­peared, and many shops in down­town Tokyo once known as Korea Town closed.

Nishino said the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in re­la­tions could also be traced to South Korea’s ris­ing eco­nomic clout and in­ter­na­tional pro­file, which have touched a nerve for many Ja­panese, who have lost con­fi­dence in their own lead­er­ship amid eco­nomic slump and po­lit­i­cal dis­ar­ray.

Tokyo main­tains that the 1965 treaty set­tled all com­pen­sa­tion claims be­tween Ja­pan and South Korea, but Seoul says wartime crimes, in­clud­ing sex­ual slav­ery, should be read­dressed.

Eco­nomic re­la­tions are still gen­er­ally strong, although Ja­panese tourist ar­rivals and di­rect in­vest­ment in South Korea have de­clined since 2012, while those from South Korea have re­mained rel­a­tively sta­ble.


(Top) Riot po­lice stand guard in front of a group of Ja­pan’s ex­treme right­ists de­mon­strat­ing with anti-South Korea ban­ners out­side the For­eign Min­istry’s Iikura Guest­house in Tokyo where for­eign min­is­ters of South Korean and Ja­pan are hold­ing a meet­ing on Sun­day. (Above) South Korea’s For­eign Min­is­ter Yun Byung-se, left, shakes hands with Ja­pan’s For­eign Min­is­ter Fumio Kishida be­fore their meet­ing at the for­eign min­istry’s Iikura guest house in Tokyo on Sun­day, June 21.

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