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Editorial: Pandemic offers chance for Japan, S. Korea to reset relations

The time is now for Japan and South Korea, two of Asia’s top free nations, to join forces in battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who marked his three years in office last week with an address to the nation, stressed the results of his crisis control policy.

 

South Korea’s thoroughness in testing, treating infections and enforcing contact tracking has rightfully earned the nation the praise of the international community.

 

The presidential term of office is five years, and the president’s approval rating usually declines in the latter half. This appeared to be the case with the Moon administration until a recent poll showed a dramatic resurge of its popularity to over 70 percent.

 

Obviously, Moon’s contagion control policy has earned the solid trust of citizens.

 

But South Korea did not stumble across successful measures by accident. The present setup is a result of some hard lessons learned five years ago, when a different strain of coronavirus caused the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that took a heavy toll.

 

Each country has its own ideas and set of circumstances when it comes to handling matters such as personal information.

 

And even in South Korea, mass infections have returned after the relaxation of restrictions. The jury is still out on how successful the nation’s handling of the pandemic has been.

 

But even so, there is no question that South Korea’s experiences provide valuable clues to the international community, including Japan.

 

Unfortunately, however, there is little tangible cooperation between South Korea and Japan at present.

 

One factor standing in the way is the same old “history issue” and the mutual antagonism stemming from it.

 

There is a move in South Korea to consider sending medical supplies to Japan. But Seoul is forced to pay attention to some citizens who are adamantly against such a move, while Tokyo has strong reservations about seeking help from Seoul.

 

But the gravity of the health crisis does not allow for any unproductive “bargaining.” Both governments must avoid politicizing the issue. The neighbors should now forget about face-saving and instead share information and needed supplies to overcome the crisis together.

 

In his address last week, Moon indicated his intention to lead the world in infection control.

 

And Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, proposed the establishment of an “ASEAN Center for Infectious Diseases” at the Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) last month, stressing the importance of information-sharing.

 

We applaud South Korea and Japan for their commitment to international contributions as two nations that are geographically close to China, the source of the pandemic. And for Seoul and Tokyo to make good on their commitment, it is vital that they review their immediate mutual relationship to deepen their cooperation.

 

Having won the South Korean presidential election by a landslide, the Moon administration must make a bold decision on its Japan policy during the remainder of Moon’s term in office.

 

And the Abe administration must try to rebuild the bilateral relationship by immediately removing the stiffer trade restrictions introduced last year on South Korea.

 

We hope both Seoul and Tokyo will demonstrate the wisdom of recognizing the coronavirus crisis as the cue for resetting their relationship.

 

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