There are signs of thawing relations between South Korea and Japan. Fukushiro Nukaga, chairman of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians' Union, reportedly visited South Korea on Thursday and Friday and met with South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon, and Kang Chang-il, chair of the South Korea-Japan Parliamentarians' Union. Chairman Nukaga visited the Kim Dae-jung Library in Seoul on Thursday and conveyed condolences to the bereaved family of late former First Lady Lee Hee-ho.
Earlier on June 12, the South Korea-Japan and Japan-South Korea Parliamentarians' Unions agreed to hold this year’s joint assembly meeting in Tokyo on September 18 this year. The two countries have been hosting joint assembly meetings by taking turns since 1972, but attention has been focusing on whether the event will be able to take place this year due to deteriorated bilateral ties. On the same day, South Korean National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang met with former Japanese Prime Minster Yukio Hatoyama, and apologized the Japanese people for his own statement urging the Japanese king to apologize for Japan’s colonial rule.
Watchers say that these positive moves stem from the upcoming G20 Summit, which will take place in Osaka, Japan on June 28-29. The bilateral ties have reportedly been at their lowest level since October last year due to conflicts over the South Korean Supreme Court’s ruling that ordered responsible Japanese firms to compensate Korean slave laborers (during the Second World War) and Seoul’s dismissal of a foundation for Korean comfort women (sex slaves) for the Japanese military, and dispute over their patrol planes. Even global leaders including U.S. President Donald Trump have expressed concerns about the South Korea-Japan relations. Hence, some pundits predicted that the South Korea-Japan summit to be held on the sidelines of the upcoming G20 summit will be just “pull-aside” or an informal meeting. Even though there are moves to improve relations between South Korean and Japanese lawmakers at present, the two countries have widely differing views when it comes to details including the slave labor issue.
South Korea and Japan are the closest neighbors geographically, and both share the value of freedom and democracy and market economy. From Japan’s perspective, Tokyo is hosting the G20 Summit, and its failure to have a summit meeting with the leader of the neighbor country, which is in closest proximity, would be embarrassing in the international community. For Seoul, the three-way collaboration with the U.S. and Japan in North Korea’s denuclearization and response to China’s moves remains important. While the U.S. and China are engaged in intensifying race to secure hegemony, cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo is critical for South Korea to survive and thrive as well.
The two countries are advised to make most of the momentum from the G20, and improve bilateral ties to ensure that they can efficient communicate and cooperate. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister should meet with each other without any condition, and find a clue to mending ties so that the two leaders can dispel mistrust and enhance ties. Only then will South Korea and Japan will have a brighter future. Mere rhetoric will never bring about a brighter future.