Efforts to build future-oriented relations between Japan and South Korea are still halfway down the road to completion. It is hoped that the weight of a historic bilateral agreement will be recalled again.
Monday marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Japan-South Korea Joint Declaration by then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and then South Korean President Kim Dae Jung in 1998. The declaration was an epochal document that sought to mark an end to the history issue, which had hindered the development of bilateral ties, and to highlight the start of a new era.
Japan apologized for “damage and suffering” inflicted because of Japan’s colonial rule. South Korea highly praised the role played by postwar Japan in contributing to international peace and prosperity.
The declaration’s aim of surmounting the unfortunate history in the past and developing the bilateral relationship to a new dimension holds true even now. It was a result of continued efforts by a broad range of people in both nations to improve the relationship after diplomatic ties were normalized in 1965.
In a written interview conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun in May this year, South Korean President Moon Jae In emphasized that he would return to the spirit of the joint declaration and maintain and develop it. If he aims to build future-oriented relations with Japan, Moon must look steadily at the cause of a stalemate in improving bilateral ties after the declaration.
A honeymoon was created between the two countries due to their cohosting the 2002 soccer World Cup, as well as a Korean boom that was generated in Japan by factors such as South Korean dramas, but that period did not last long. Although the number of South Korean visitors to Japan has increased in recent years, anti-South Korea feelings have spread in Japan, and the number of Japanese travelers to the South has greatly fallen below the peak level.
Labor suit may raise problems
Until now, South Korea’s gross domestic product per capita has come close to that of Japan, resulting in stronger anti-Japanese nationalism among South Koreans. The South Korean government has rehashed the history issue, repeating a self-righteous assertion about the territorial dispute over Takeshima islets in Shimane Prefecture.
The Moon administration is no exception to this. Its continued moves to put aside the Japan-South Korea deal reached over the comfort women issue in 2015 seem to run counter to future-oriented relationship-building efforts.
The Maritime Self-Defense Force received a demand from South Korea not to hoist the SDF ship’s ensign, the Rising Sun flag, when joining an international fleet review to be held in that country this month.
The action of raising the flag, a sign used to distinguish between SDF ships and commercial vessels, conforms to international rules. The MSDF had every reason to reject the unreasonable demand and to decide against joining the review.
Another cause for concern is lawsuits filed by South Koreans who were requisitioned during the colonial period, demanding Japanese corporations pay them compensation. There is a possibility that South Korea’s Supreme Court will pass judgment by the end of the year.
The South Korean judicial authorities have a strong tendency to go along with public opinion. If the Japanese companies are ordered to pay reparations to the former requisitioned workers, it would shake the framework for diplomatic normalization, which stipulated the final settlement of the compensation issue.
Japan needs to cooperate with South Korea in trying to denuclearize North Korea and resolve the abduction problem. At the same time, Japan must resolutely urge South Korea to rectify the moves that are contrary to future-oriented relationship-building.