What makes US look away from Ja­pan-SK spat

Global Times US Edition - - ASIANREVIEW - By Chen Yang The au­thor is an edi­tor at Global Times and an ob­server on Ja­pan is­sues. opin­[email protected] glob­al­times.com.cn

Ac­cord­ing to The Asahi Shim­bun, the Supreme Court of South Korea on Novem­ber 29 re­jected Mit­subishi Heavy In­dus­tries’ ap­peal and ruled the Ja­panese com­pany com­pen­sate 28 South Kore­ans for their forced la­bor in Ja­pan dur­ing World War II. On Novem­ber 21, the South Korean gov­ern­ment an­nounced the clo­sure of the Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and Heal­ing Foun­da­tion that was es­tab­lished in ac­cor­dance with the “com­fort women” agree­ment reached with Ja­pan in De­cem­ber 2015. The two mea­sures have dented Ja­panSouth Korea re­la­tions and it would not be easy for the two coun­tries to shake off the gloom.

The “com­fort women” is­sue and other his­tor­i­cal prob­lems be­tween Ja­pan and South Korea can­not be re­solved in a short time. In fact, the diplo­matic row be­tween Ja­pan and South Korea can be traced back three years. Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe in­tended to use the “com­fort women” agree­ment to ad­dress the is­sue once for all. How­ever, things did not go as Abe had ex­pected. South Korean cit­i­zens were against sign­ing the agree­ment. Ac­cord­ing to a poll re­leased by South Korean poll­ster Real­me­ter on De­cem­ber 31, 2015, 50.7 per­cent re­spon­dents op­posed the agree­ment.

The agree­ments signed be­tween gov­ern­ments need to be car­ried out steadily rather than be­ing scrapped. It is also the rea­son why the Ja­panese ac­cused Seoul of lack­ing cred­i­bil­ity af­ter the dis­so­lu­tion of the Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and Heal­ing Foun­da­tion. How­ever, since the US has quit sev­eral in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions and con­ven­tions with­out plau­si­ble reasons af­ter Don­ald Trump took of­fice, South Korea’s move won’t nec­es­sar­ily dam­age its in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion.

It was the US that helped thaw Ja­pan-South Korea re­la­tions last time, but so far the Trump gov­ern­ment has shown no sign of in­volve­ment. Af­ter Abe was re-elected at the end of 2012, his words and deeds on his­tor­i­cal and ter­ri­to­rial is­sues led to fray­ing of Ja­pan’s ties with South Korea. In March 2014, then US pres­i­dent Barack Obama brought to­gether lead­ers of Ja­pan and South Korea for talks on the side­lines of the Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Sum­mit in The Hague. It was the first time Abe met then South Korean pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye. There­after, China-Ja­panSouth Korea lead­ers’ meet­ing re­opened in 2015 while the “com­fort women” agree­ment was signed at the end of that year.

The me­di­a­tion move by the US was aimed at the North Korean nu­clear is­sue and co­or­di­nat­ing the Asia-Pa­cific re­bal­anc­ing strat­egy. Af­ter all, the un­sta­ble re­la­tion­ship be­tween two im­por­tant US al­lies was not con­ducive to the over­all strate­gic de­ploy­ment of Wash­ing­ton. This also ap­plies to­day when the US has to pro­mote its Indo-Pa­cific strat­egy, deal with the North Korean is­sue and step up mil­i­tary se­cu­rity against China and Rus­sia.

How­ever, no talks took place be­tween Trump and lead­ers of Ja­pan and South Korea to me­di­ate the two Asian coun­tries at the re­cent APEC sum­mit or the just-con­cluded G20 sum­mit. Per­haps Trump be­lieves that Ja­pan-South Korea re­la­tions are not yet at the low­est, or he sim­ply does not care about the im­pact of their frozen re­la­tions on the US’ strate­gic ar­chi­tec­ture. Trump is stick­ing to his ma­jor pol­icy guide­lines in­clud­ing “Amer­ica First” and im­prove­ment in trade deficit. Thus, he doesn’t seem to have time for the spat be­tween US al­lies un­like his pre­de­ces­sor.

Some right-wing forces and even the pub­lic in Ja­pan have long held that his­tor­i­cal is­sues are the “bar­gain­ing chips” held by neigh­bor­ing coun­tries to sup­press Ja­pan. Nev­er­the­less, this the­ory is un­ten­able given the re­cent spats be­tween Ja­pan and South Korea. Since Abe hasn’t done any­thing to pro­voke Seoul over his­tor­i­cal is­sues re­cently, the dis­so­lu­tion of the foun­da­tion by South Korea can­not be re­garded as re­tal­i­a­tion against Ja­pan. Like­wise, the rul­ing on com­pen­sa­tion for forced la­bor was made by the Supreme Court of South Korea, which is in­de­pen­dent of po­lit­i­cal and pub­lic in­flu­ence.

All in all, link­ing his­tor­i­cal is­sues with diplo­matic pres­sure is noth­ing but wish­ful think­ing by Ja­pan. Tokyo needs to be sin­cere to solve his­tor­i­cal is­sues with its neigh­bors.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu Rui/GT

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