Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Abe’s departure: Seoul, Tokyo need to be more flexible to mend bilateral ties




Abe’s departure: Seoul, Tokyo need to be more flexible to mend bilateral ties

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Seoul-Tokyo ties have reached a low ebb over issues stemming from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. JIJI PRESS/AFP

Abe’s departure: Seoul, Tokyo need to be more flexible to mend bilateral ties

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s planned departure from office is raising hopes that the strained relations between Seoul and Tokyo might at last begin to see some improvement.

Days after becoming Japan’s longest-serving premier last week, Abe announced his intent to step down due to a chronic illness, saying he will stay in the post until his successor is chosen, probably within this month.

During his current tenure, which began in 2012, Seoul-Tokyo ties have reached a low ebb over issues stemming from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Discord over long-simmering issues such as wartime sexual slavery and forced labour has continued to deepen, with Abe’s conservative government refusing to accede to the calls of South Korean victims for a meaningful apology and formal reparations.

Throughout his stint as prime minister, Abe has taken a harder stance on Seoul than any of his predecessors. Some observers accuse him of seeking to amplify anti-Korean sentiment in Japan for his own political gain.

In 2016, Abe said he would not consider sending a letter of apology to the Korean women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Last year, he pressed Tokyo’s trade officials to impose curbs on the export of high-tech materials to South Korea in what appeared to be a politically motivated reprisal for two rulings by the Supreme Court here in 2018, ordering Japanese firms to compensate Koreans forced to work in their plants and mines during the colonial era.

Later, Japan dropped South Korea from its list of preferential trading partners.

Seoul responded by filing a complaint with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over the export restrictions.

It also vowed not to renew its military intelligence-sharing accord with Tokyo, though it shelved the pledge at the last minute due to opposition from the US, which sees the pact as a crucial tool to enhance trilateral security cooperation with its two key Asian allies.

But the administration of Korean President Moon Jae-in has left open the possibility of scrapping the military accord.

Also last year, Abe refused to hold a bilateral meeting with Moon when he hosted the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Osaka.

Yet he made time for one-on-one talks with the leaders of all other major member states on the sidelines of the multilateral summit.

Abe’s departure can hardly be expected to have an immediate and significant impact on the frayed ties between Seoul and Tokyo, given that whoever succeeds him will likely follow his policy line.

Still, there is the possibility that the new Japanese administration may relax measures driven mainly by Abe’s personal will – such as the export curbs, which have been criticised for damaging the economies of both countries.

If Seoul responds to any such positive move from Tokyo by taking a more forward-looking approach to historical issues, bilateral ties could finally move beyond their worst level since they were normalised in 1965.

In a statement issued after Abe’s announcement that he planned to resign, South Korea’s Presidential Blue House (Cheong Wa Dae) said the country will continue to cooperate with Abe’s successor to promote friendly bilateral ties, while wishing Abe a quick recovery from his illness.

Seoul needs to make the best use of this chance to forge better ties with Tokyo upon Abe’s departure.

The Moon government is not above criticism either, having itself attempted to amplify anti-Japanese sentiment here to bolster its domestic position.

It has done little to ease the conflict with Tokyo since the rulings on forced labour, repeatedly saying the court judgments should be respected.

With the next presidential election less than two years away, it may be tempting to adhere to that position and continue to use anti-Japanese rhetoric in a bid to rally voter support.

The Moon administration and the incoming Japanese Cabinet should not let ties between South Korea and Japan be strained further at a time when the two countries need to pursue closer cooperation to cope with the coronavirus pandemic and ensure regional stability.

The wider public in both nations should not be swayed by political attempts to stir up negative sentiment against the other side, but instead should strengthen efforts at various levels to help put bilateral relations back on track.

Editorial/THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

MOST VIEWED

  • Seven positive for Covid-19, Hun Sen confirms local transmission

    Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that there has been local community transmission of Covid-19. However, he urged the people not to panic even though the Ministry of Health announced the discovery of seven new cases on Sunday. Among the victims are Chhem Savuth, the director-general

  • Cambodia at ‘most critical moment’, Hun Sen warns

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said the first community transmission of Covid-19 in Cambodia has led the country to the “most critical moment” that warranted urgent, large-scale operations to contain the pandemic. Hun Sen, who confirmed the first local transmission on November 28, said the source of

  • PM confirms community transmission, calls for unity

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on the public to stay calm, unite and follow the Ministry of Health guidelines after the wife of a senior official tested positive for Covid-19 in the Kingdom’s first case of community transmission. The case has drawn criticism

  • Over 110 garment factories close

    A government official said on November 22 that at least 110 garment factories had closed in the first nine months of the year and left more than 55,000 workers without jobs – but union leaders worry those numbers could be much higher. Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training undersecretary

  • Singapore group seeks $14M in damages from PPSP over ‘breach of contract’

    Singapore-based Asiatic Group (Holdings) Ltd is seeking a minimum of $14.4 million relief from Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX)-listed Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone Plc (PPSP) for allegedly breaching a power plant joint venture (JV) agreement. Asiatic Group’s wholly-owned Colben System Pte Ltd and 95 per

  • PM vows to protect Hun family

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has vowed to continue his fight against opposition politicians who he said intend to smash the Hun family. Without naming the politicians but apparently referring to former leaders of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Hun Sen said there