Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe)

Japan and South Korea: Happy at Last?

Abe has apologized for a war crime. Now both countries have to persuade citizens to get along


Japan’s reluctance to fully acknowledg­e its colonial and wartime crimes in Korea, where it forced local women to work in military brothels, has long been a source of deep acrimony between the two countries. But Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has finally said Japan is sorry. With an agreement announced on Dec. 28, Japan will provide 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) to a fund for victims. Both sides say the issue is resolved, and they have agreed not to raise it in forums such as the United Nations.

Domestical­ly, however, both Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye will have a lot of work to do to manage the backlash: Abe from Japan’s never-say-sorry right wing, and Park from South Koreans who think the deal is a sellout. Outbursts from both sides have torpedoed previous attempts at reconcilia­tion. A bitter territoria­l dispute over small islets in the Sea of Japan lingers. And for all the ties of tourism and trade, public sentiment in each country is negative toward the other.

To overcome those pitfalls, Japanese and Korean leaders must reemphasiz­e to their citizens the benefits of better ties. In addition to economic and cultural relations, closer coordinati­on can help on everything from improving disaster relief to leveraging foreign aid. Better military and intelligen­ce relations can help counter North Korea’s bursts of belligeren­ce and its steadily developing arsenal. And a more united front can help both countries provide a counterbal­ance to the rise of China.

The U.S., meanwhile, must perform a diplomatic balancing act in getting its two most important Asian allies to make nice. It can encourage and discourage as appropriat­e. And it can create opportunit­ies for the nations to work together more closely. One thing it shouldn’t try to do is mediate, which could increase the risks of misunderst­anding.

Neither an apology nor its acceptance can erase history. But they are often a prerequisi­te for a shared future. <BW>

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