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Editorial: Abe’s plan to attend Winter Games a chance for dialogue

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced his intention to attend the Opening Ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea on Feb. 9 as there is no good reason for him to skip the event.


The next three Olympics will all be held in cities in East Asia, starting with Pyeongchang before the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo and the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.


The Japanese prime minister’s failure to show up for the ceremony to mark the beginning of the series of Olympics would create a conspicuous and embarrassing absence.


Irked by South Korea’s recent moves related to the issue of so-called “comfort women,” some lawyers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are critical of Abe’s decision.


But it would not be smart for the Japanese government to allow such diplomatic friction between the two countries to affect its decision on this matter.


Japan should provide maximum possible cooperation to help ensure that the Olympics, a celebration of peace, will promote efforts to overcome such international conflict and diplomatic challenges.


Abe’s trip to South Korea could also contribute to mending the strained relationship between the two governments.


Abe should seize this opportunity to have frank conversations with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to build a personal relationship that allows the two leaders to discuss various bilateral issues naturally even if there are disagreements between them.


Abe has expressed his desire to discuss issues with Moon related to the implementation of a 2015 agreement on “comfort women” between Japan and South Korea and North Korea’s arms programs.


The Moon administration has announced its new position regarding the bilateral agreement on the touchy war-related issue, calling for Tokyo’s voluntary and sincere new actions while stopping short of demanding renegotiations.


The Moon administration should respect the agreement, which was supposed to have been a “final, irreversible resolution” to the long-running issue and based on difficult political decisions on both sides made through strenuous diplomatic efforts.


It should not be forgotten that the essential question behind the agreement, which was reached under the previous South Korean administration of Park Geun-hye, was how to heal the wounds of former comfort women, who were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.


The agreement between the governments, however, will not quickly untangle the complicated knot of emotions among the people about the unfortunate chapter of history.


Accelerating the process of healing requires the two governments to continue taking helpful actions.


From this point of view, it would not help if the Abe administration acts as if the agreement had completely settled the issue.


The Moon administration, for its part, would be acting in an irresponsible manner if it throws the agreement out of the window simply to denounce his predecessor.


Both governments should demonstrate their willingness to have candid talks over the issue and try harder to create more opportunities to convince the domestic public of the value of the pact for progress in bilateral relations.


In a move that could compound the urgent diplomatic challenge of dealing with North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has set out on a new course of action toward dialogue between Pyongyang and Seoul.


To use this window of opportunity to really defuse the tension, effective actions are needed to push North Korea toward sincere talks with both the United States and Japan.


This means close communication among Japan, South Korea and the United States is vital.


While the security threat posed by North Korea’s arms programs remains as grave as ever, North Korean athletes will participate in the Pyeongchang Games.


That makes it all the more important for the leaders of Japan and South Korea to stand shoulder to shoulder to celebrate the event together and thereby demonstrate their commitment to promoting peace in the region.


We also hope that Abe’s visit to South Korea will be a first step toward regular mutual visits by the leaders of the two countries in line with their agreement on such an arrangement.

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