May 08, 2018 13:07
President Moon Jae-in will visit Tokyo on Wednesday for trilateral talks with China and Japan. The last time a Korean president visited Japan was more than six years ago. During the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came Korea, so it seems that shuttle diplomacy between the two countries is being restored.
Bilateral relations turned sour back in 2011, when then President Lee Myung-bak was in office, due to the issue of compensating Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II. The Park Geun-hye administration said that Korea-Japan ties could not progress without resolving the issue, only to reach a shady backroom deal in late 2015. But the Moon Jae-in administration effectively binned the agreement due to the lack of transparency that accompanied the deal.
Moon has stressed the need to separate past history from diplomacy, and he should let his trip serve as the first step in acting on his words. Seoul-Tokyo relations have to be strengthened to ensure progress in North Korean denuclearization. First, South Korea and Japan must cooperate to ensure that the U.S.-North Korea summit does not end up merely removing the nuclear threat against the U.S. mainland. It would be catastrophic if North Korea was left to possess mid-range ballistic missiles capable of striking South Korea and Japan. If the North Korean nuclear impasse is resolved successfully, trade with the North will resume, which would increase the role played by Japan.
There are many other tasks Seoul and Tokyo need to deal with. Bank of Korea Governor Lee Ju-yeol said he would strive to resume a currency-swap agreement that was in place for 14 years until 2015 but severed due to conflict over Japan's flimsy claim to Korea's Dokdo islets and the issue of compensating the former sex slaves. Those issues could now serve as opportunities in bridging the gap between the two neighbors.
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