The government has decided to recall its ambassador to South Korea and the consul general in Busan.
This retaliatory step is to protest Seoul’s inaction concerning a “comfort women” statue in front of the Japanese consulate-general in Busan.
Tokyo also said Jan. 6 it will suspend talks on a new currency swap arrangement that will oblige the two countries to offer U.S. dollars or other currencies to each other during a financial crisis.
In addition, Japan will shelve bilateral talks on economic cooperation involving vice ministers or their equivalents and call off participation by Japanese diplomats in events related to Busan.
The South Korean government should act swiftly and take effective steps to defuse the crisis. The Japanese government is perfectly justified in pressing South Korea to deal with the issue in an appropriate manner.
At the same time, however, the range of retaliatory measures taken in such haste shows that Japan has failed to respond to the situation with aplomb.
Tokyo’s excessively strong reaction can only trigger a vicious downward spiral in bilateral relations.
The Japanese government should come up with more measured and carefully calculated diplomatic actions.
The relationship between the Japanese and South Korean governments has a long history of becoming crippled due to history perception issues.
The Japanese government has argued that this background makes it all the more important to delink bilateral political issues, including history-related problems, from cooperation between the two countries in other areas, such as in the economic and cultural fields.
By freezing economic talks and human exchanges with South Korea over the statue issue, the government is acting in a way that is inconsistent with its past words. Such behavior will weaken Japan’s position in future negotiations with South Korea.
South Korea is currently in political turmoil following the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye in an influence-peddling scandal.
If the two countries become locked in tit-for-tat exchanges, there could be unwanted repercussions on the upcoming presidential election in South Korea.
The candidates who have so far shown little interest in the comfort women issue are likely to take a hard-line stance toward Japan, making it even harder to settle the latest dispute.
The relationship between Tokyo and Seoul is on the cusp of another long period of tension and distrust.
This is time for both governments to view the situation from a long-term perspective and step up their efforts to convince audiences both at home and abroad of the value of evolving the bilateral relations from an endless series of conflict into mutually beneficial ties.
Like the Japanese government, South Korea’s administration also shares the burden of taking effective steps to sort out the situation.
The 2015 agreement on the comfort women issue commits the South Korean government to making efforts to ensure “an appropriate solution” to the issue of a separate comfort women statue standing in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
The Japanese government has been calling on South Korea to remove the statue, arguing that it violates the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which stipulates that a country should take all appropriate steps to “prevent any disturbance of the peace” of a foreign diplomatic mission it has accepted or “impairment of its dignity.”
Even though the removal of the statue is just a goal to work for, South Korea should take actions that demonstrate its commitment to the language of the agreement.
The bilateral agreement on the comfort women issue is a result of strenuous efforts by both sides to figure out a way to heal the spiritual wounds of former comfort women. It is supposed to be the starting point for the process of developing further the relations between the two governments.
Neither side should take any action that could undermine this agreement.
Both governments need to make all possible efforts to implement the spirit of the accord and promote public support for it in their respective countries.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 7