November 03, 2015 13:18
President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met one-on-one Monday in the first summit between the two countries since in 2012.
Bilateral relations are at their iciest since Korea and Japan resumed normal diplomatic ties in 1965, mainly because of the Abe administration’s inexorable lurch to the far right, with resurgent hunger for its neighbors' land and growing efforts to whitewash the country's abysmal colonial and wartime history.
The fact that Park and Abe sat down together at all is therefore being hailed as an achievement, but they did not even manage to adopt a joint statement for the press.
Nobody expected any great breakthrough. Park and Abe agreed merely to "speed up negotiations" to resolve the issue of women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops in World War II.
Abe told reporters after the summit that such "obstacles" should not be passed on to future generations, but he did not elaborate how and when he intends to deal with the issue.
Abe has zealously denied the Japanese military's involvement in forcing the women into sexual slavery. He has financed ads in U.S. newspapers denying imperial Japan's guilt, and systematically undermined a 1993 statement by then Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, who admitted the leading role of the Imperial Army.
If Abe is sincere about speeding up negotiations, he had better get to work.
Abe also said he raised several issues Japan has with the Korean government. There are two, according to Japanese media. One is that he takes exception to the trial of the Sankei Shimbun’s Seoul bureau chief for defaming President Park Geun-hye, and the other is that he is unhappy that the Supreme Court here recognized individual compensation claims by Koreans who were forced to labor in Japanese factories during World War II.
Linking the two issues together under the heading of Korean justice may be a smart ruse -- the trial of the Sankei reporter is indeed an embarrassment -- but they do not exist remotely on the same plane. Abe needs to overcome such shoddy politicking if he wants relations to improve.
The Abe administration earlier this year decided to reinterpret Japan's pacifist postwar constitution so its forces can deployed abroad under the doctrine of "collective self-defense," i.e. if an ally is in some way under threat. On his watch, Japan became one of the founding members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a controversial U.S.-driven free trade deal covering 12 Pacific Rim nations.
By making himself indispensable to the Americans in this way, Abe has naturally fueled suspicions in Korea. He will have an uphill struggle overcoming them.
Korea-Japan relations are a minefield, but their leaders have no choice but to try and negotiate it. Given the measly outcome of their latest meeting, the two leaders need to sit down together much more often.
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