North Korea continues committing reckless, provocative acts, while China’s behavior is becoming increasingly unpredictable.
Japan and South Korea should realize that they, as neighbors, share common interests in an expanding scope of areas.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Sept. 7 in Laos. It was their second meeting since the two countries reached an agreement on the so-called comfort women issue at the end of last year. The two leaders also held talks in March.
Both meetings were held on the sidelines of an international conference. We welcome the thaw in the once-frosty relationship between the two countries that has led to the start of periodical meetings between their leaders.
North Korea this week fired three ballistic missiles without warning that fell into Japan’s exclusive economic zone off Okushirito island in Hokkaido.
In August, Pyongyang successfully test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine in the Sea of Japan.
The security threat level posed to Japan and South Korea by North Korea’s missile program has risen significantly because missiles fired from mobile launchers or submarines are hard to detect in advance.
In addition, China has been acting in a way that raises concerns among neighboring countries. Beijing has reacted angrily to Seoul’s decision to allow the United States to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, within South Korea. This has splashed cold water on the increasingly closer ties between China and South Korea.
A tough diplomatic challenge confronting Japan, the United States and South Korea is how to deal with China in responding to the serious security risk created by North Korea.
During their latest meeting, Abe and Park agreed on closer bilateral cooperation in coping with problems posed by North Korea. That is a natural response by the two leaders to the current situation.
With the actions of China and North Korea becoming increasingly unpredictable, Japan, the United States and South Korea need to step up their efforts to enhance their solidarity.
What is vital for strengthening overall relations between Japan and South Korea is steady implementation of their agreement on the comfort women issue.
The South Korean government has set up a foundation to support former comfort women, and the Japanese government has provided 1 billion yen ($9.8 million) to the foundation.
The foundation will supply about 10 million yen in cash to each former comfort woman while listening to their wishes and intentions.
Public opinion in both Japan and South Korea is still deeply divided over the deal. In South Korea, in particular, opposition parties are bitterly criticizing the agreement. With a presidential election slated for next year, the Park administration is in a difficult political situation.
The two countries, however, should not allow domestic political obstacles to reduce the momentum of improvement in their ties created by the agreement.
Signs of change are already emerging in the bilateral relationship. The two nations have agreed to start negotiations for a new currency swap arrangement to deal with a currency crisis, replacing the one that expired in February 2015 amid deteriorating relations.
Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and its South Korean counterpart, the Ministry of the Interior, have restarted their exchange program, which had been suspended for five years.
With the landscape of international relations in a state of flux, there is a long list of problems Japan and South Korea should tackle together.
The people of both countries should confront the reality and take necessary steps to enhance bilateral cooperation.