Korea Needs a Better Strategy for Dealing with Japan

      August 04, 2015 12:59

      President Park Geun-hye on Monday met with Katsuya Okada, the leader of Japan's opposition Democratic Party, and said she hopes Seoul and Tokyo can "continue to strengthen dialogue and cooperation" despite the Abe administration's lurch to the far right.

      Speaking about the chances of a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Park advised patience and called for resolving outstanding issues first.

      Cheong Wa Dae now seems minded to separate disputes about history from current issues. But since the Park administration was launched almost three years ago, it has maintained that Japan must atone for its World War II atrocities if there is to be a summit.

      The Foreign Ministry recently started trying to separate the two issues, but this has produced no fruitful results. Park's refusal to sit down with Abe continues to haunt bilateral relations. There have been virtually no contacts between ministers of both sides since Park came into office. The first foreign ministerial meeting was finally held in June this year.

      Even China, which had approached Korea proposing joint pressure on Japan to issue a formal apology, ended up holding two summits with Tokyo. And Abe will visit Beijing in September possibly for a third summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Seoul has isolated itself diplomatically in Northeast Asia.

      Abe is putting the finishing touches to a speech marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. There is a strong chance that it will contain comments on the atrocities that weasel out of responsibility. If this happens and Seoul-Tokyo relations chill further, Japan will lose a lot of credit in the region. 

      But Seoul's diplomatic approach to Tokyo is an entirely different matter. The blanket refusal to hold a summit even though it is clear that Abe can and will not face up to his country's brutal past has left Seoul high and dry. If the government is now suddenly giving the impression that it is ready to surrender on all fronts to repair ties, it has only itself to blame.

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