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Editorial: Japan, South Korea should improve ties through summit dialogue

(Nikkei: November 3, 2015 – p. 2)

 

 The recent summit between Japan and South Korea marked an epoch-making step in their bilateral ties, as their leaders met for the first time in three and a half years.

 

 The absence of summit talks between the two countries highlighted how much their relations had deteriorated. This year, Japan and South Korea are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties. They should make full use of this much-needed summit to improve bilateral ties.

 

 The territorial dispute over Takeshima (called Dokdo in South Korea) and the conflicting historical perception played a large part in the deterioration of the bilateral relations. But above all, Park has identified the settlement of the comfort women issue as a top priority in her diplomatic agenda with Japan and made it a precondition for holding summit talks.

 

 South Korea agreed to hold a summit before this issue was settled out of concern for the negative impact the strained relations might have. Seoul apparently also gave consideration to Washington, which had been urging the two countries to improve ties.

 

 But the comfort women issue remained a centerpiece of the summit talks. Park, who defines the issue as a “universal female human rights issue,” urged Japan to respond with sincerity. Abe said: “We will seek to settle the issue at the earliest possible timing.”

 

 Japan upholds the stance that the comfort women issue was “completely resolved” based on the bilateral agreement on the right of claim that it signed with South Korea in 1965. Though it maintains this position, it should find a mutually agreeable settlement from a human rights perspective.

 

 There are other issues that Japan and South Korea also need to address. Victims of forced labor during World War II have been filing lawsuits against Japanese companies to seek compensation. The former Seoul bureau chief with the Sankei Shimbun was indicted without arrest. South Korea has been restricting imports of seafood from Japan on the grounds of radioactive contamination caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident.

 

 It is important for the leaders of the two countries to hold face-to-face discussions. Doing so will help resolve issues that prevent the improvement of bilateral ties and build up mutual trust. Abe and Park should use international conferences and other occasions to meet more frequently.

 

 Japan and South Korea should also look to build a future-oriented relationship. Pyongyang’s nuclear development is a common threat to the two countries. Seoul is showing an interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which reached a broad agreement under the leadership of Japan and the U.S.

 

 Japan and South Korea should deepen cooperation in these fields for mutual benefits and pave the way toward building friendly ties. (Slightly abridged)

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