The Japanese government approved Tuesday its 2019 Diplomatic Bluebook in which it blames South Korea for frayed bilateral ties. Tokyo added sections about the two countries’ diplomatic conflicts over several issues including the South Korean top court’s ruling in October on compensation for victims of forced labor, and also removed a phrase calling for the pursuit of a “future-oriented relationship” with Seoul.
The latest report said that South Korea’s “negative moves,” such as its decision to dissolve the Tokyo-funded Reconciliation and Healing Foundation and a military spat triggered by a South Korean destroyer having allegedly locked its radar on a Japanese patrol plane, have put bilateral relations in an “extremely difficult situation.” In addition, Japan has removed a phrase “although there are difficult issues between South Korea and Japan, it is important to appropriately manage these issues while advancing the bilateral relationship in a future oriented way,” which was included in the 2018 report. Tokyo has not shifted its stance on the sovereignty of the Dokdo islets, the comfort women issue, and the victims of forced conscription during the Japanese colonialism.
In a stark contrast, the Japanese government has softened its tone on North Korea and Russia in the foreign policy report. Japan has deleted a reference applying “maximum pressure” on the North for its nuclear and missile development. Also, while last year’s edition stated that the four Russia-controlled Kuril Islands “belong to” Japan, it has stressed a need to work toward resolving the dispute in the 2019 edition. Yet, improving ties with Seoul was not mentioned in the latest report at all.
South Korea’s foreign ministry on Tuesday summoned a senior Japanese Embassy official in Seoul to lodge a formal complaint against the diplomatic paper. However, repeatedly lodging a protest and blaming each other would not lead the two countries to a brighter future. The South Korea-Japan relationship has become increasingly strained by issues for which it is hard to point the finger at only one side. Even if politicians and the public sentiment are rushing into extremes, both countries’ diplomats need to make efforts to find a clue to improve the current sour relations. Still, Tokyo’s latest diplomatic paper seems to be reflecting the Abe government’s emotional approach. Now, the two countries should refrain from being emotional and blaming each other but explore what would be truly a future-oriented approach.