Tokyo should give ground to re­solve ten­sions with Seoul over ‘com­fort women’ is­sue

Global Times US Edition - - ASIANREVIE­W - By Su Hao Page Ed­i­tor: wang­wen­[email protected] glob­al­times.com.cn

The G20 sum­mit will take place in Osaka, Ja­pan on June 28 and 29. Ten­sions be­tween Ja­pan and South Korea have grown re­cently, amid dis­putes over is­sues such as com­pen­sa­tion for war­time forced la­bor. Whether for­mal or in­for­mal talks be­tween Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe and South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jaein will take place dur­ing the sum­mit has caught global at­ten­tion. But if they can­not hold a bi­lat­eral meet­ing, there may be no so­lu­tion to the Seoul-tokyo stand­off.

The main con­straint on Ja­pan-south Korea ties lies mainly in his­tor­i­cal prob­lems, es­pe­cially re­gard­ing “com­fort women,” an is­sue that has long been be­hind anger di­rected at Ja­pan by both South Korea and China.

For­mer South Korean pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye reached an agree­ment with the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment over the is­sue in 2015 and Ja­pan made an apol­ogy and of­fered to pay 1 bil­lion yen ($8.3 mil­lion) in com­pen­sa­tion for the vic­tims. South Korea said it would re­gard the is­sue as “fi­nally and ir­re­versibly” set­tled if Ja­pan kept its prom­ise.

How­ever, the deal was re­jected by cur­rent Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in. South Korea said in early 2018 that the deal did not meet the vic­tims’ needs and ap­pealed for more from Ja­pan, while Tokyo said the deal should not be re­vised. This has led to a dead­lock.

Ja­pan and South Korea are im­por­tant al­lies of the US in North­east Asia, but deep­en­ing ten­sions be­tween the two coun­tries do not have a fun­da­men­tal im­pact on US in­ter­ests in the re­gion. The US is con­fi­dent that both coun­tries de­pend on it, es­pe­cially for se­cu­rity. US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is more con­cerned about eco­nomic ties with both of them and will not med­dle too much in their his­tor­i­cal dis­putes. There­fore, dur­ing the G20 sum­mit, Trump may not make ef­forts to co­or­di­nate ties be­tween the two Asian al­lies.

How­ever, Tokyo-seoul ten­sions may be eased since the stand­off is detri­men­tal for both coun­tries. Ja­pan and South Korea have close eco­nomic re­la­tions and the po­lit­i­cal ten­sions are not pos­i­tive for tri­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China, Ja­pan and South Korea.

Re­liev­ing these ten­sions will mainly de­pend on Ja­pan’s at­ti­tude. If Ja­pan re­lents, it will be easy to reach a so­lu­tion. But cur­rently, Ja­pan is not giv­ing any ground on this is­sue, which could hin­der the fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of Ja­pan-south Korea ties.

Park’s “com­fort women” agree­ment is un­pop­u­lar among the pub­lic in South Korea. Park is seen as hav­ing be­trayed these war­time vic­tims by sign­ing the deal with Ja­pan as she failed to ad­e­quately lis­ten to their voices. There­fore, given the strength of do­mes­tic pub­lic opin­ion, the Moon administra­tion will not eas­ily com­pro­mise with Tokyo.

How­ever, at present, it will be hard for Ja­pan to make con­ces­sions, as Tokyo in­sists the is­sue has been set­tled with the pre­vi­ous South Korean gov­ern­ment.

Another rea­son might be that it does not at­tach much im­por­tance to its ties with Seoul and some­what looks down on its neigh­bor, mak­ing the row harder to re­solve.

It is no­tice­able that China also has a dis­pute with Ja­pan re­gard­ing the “com­fort women” is­sue. The cur­rent Tokyo-seoul ties may work as a re­minder for Ja­pan that if it fails to ad­dress his­tor­i­cal is­sues, Bei­jing-tokyo ties could also be af­fected. The au­thor is found­ing di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and Peace Stud­ies at the China For­eign Af­fairs Univer­sity. opin­[email protected] glob­al­times.com.cn

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu RUI/GT

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