A sign is being witnessed between South Korea and Japan to mend their soured diplomatic relations following a talk between South Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Kang Kyung-wha and her Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, over the phone on Friday. It was reported that the two ministers agreed on the need to engage in dialogue and interact through multi-layered diplomatic channels and have discussion at multilateral meetings and so on. In turn, it is expected that diplomatic minister meetings will be held between Korea and Japan, and among Korea, Japan and the United States on the occasion of the opening of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) scheduled this week in Bangkok, Thailand.
It is worth noting that the Korean and Japanese foreign ministers recently talked over the phone amid the ever-escalating conflict between the two countries. Even despite a gap in their viewpoints, it is a positive sign that Japan has responded favorably to South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon’s message delivered Thursday to call on Japan to have diplomatic discussion to find the solution. In particular, the telephone conversation would not have been possibly held without consent of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has taken a firm stance. Thus, it can be seen that the Abe administration may have decided to take a breather for a moment.
There might have been a certain kind of diplomatic effort behind the scenes or some contribution of the United States. A high-ranking official at the U.S. State Department strongly, on Friday, suggested a trilateral meeting among Washington, Seoul and Tokyo that will be possibly held coinciding with the ARF. He added that Washington is finding ways to encourage Seoul and Tokyo to take advantage of a meeting. It implies that Washington will increase its efforts to intervene and mediate as it is sensitive to any negative impact on the U.S. economy of the Seoul-Tokyo disputes as well as a possible harm to the trilateral cooperative relationship.
Having said that, such a sign of improvement does not translate into a change in diplomatic note. The Japanese government hints that it will vote on an amendment to a law that will exclude Korea from the “white list,” countries on which benefit from streamlined export procedures. Japan may have a meeting with Korea on the occasion of the ARF only for show as it attempts to strengthen its cause to say later that it does not say no to dialogue with Korea. However, the Abe administration might have felt burdened to take a strong stance against Korea as major Japanese newspapers called for resolution through dialogue while some intellectual groups within the country have campaigned against the control of export to Korea.
It has almost been a month since Japan announced the export control. Since then, there has only been criticism and emotional reaction, rather than dialogue and rationality between Korea and Japan. Not a few politicians have instigated public sentiment and emotional response. Meanwhile, some have voiced with reasonability for the need to resolve the conflict diplomatically via dialogue. The two countries should take full advantage of an upcoming diplomatic chance to address the issue, from mending the conflict. At least, both governments should seriously find the fundamental solution, while refraining from additional action or emotional response.