It is reported that South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon’s potential attendance to the enthronement of Japanese Emperor Naruhito to be held in Tokyo on October 22 is under consideration. Japanese media also reported that a short meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his South Korean counterpart is also under review. The upcoming enthronement is a celebratory event for Japan taking place for the first time in 30 years. The last such event took place in 1990 for former Emperor Akihito and it was attended by Kang Young-hoon, then-prime minister of South Korea.
Prime Minister Lee’s attendance at the event will hold significance in many aspects as the bilateral relations have gotten to their worst state at the moment since the normalization of the diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1965. It is a chance to show the virtue of congratulating a neighboring country’s celebratory occasion and win the hearts of Japanese people who are rejoiced over the new emperor’s enthronement.
The South Korean prime minister, who is well-acquainted with Japan, previously met with Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Prime Minister Abe. Lee had a pleasant conversation with Naruhito at the World Water Forum in Brazil in March last year. “As a student of history, I hope Japan will reflect on its past and positive relations will be built going forward,” the then-crown prince said. Back in 2005, Lee also met with then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Abe as a National Assembly member over “soju” in Seoul. Lee suggested then-Emperor Akihito, the father of the emperor to be newly enthroned, to visit Seoul in an interview with the Asahi Shimbun in September 2017. It is worthwhile to consider inviting the former emperor who will abdicate the throne to his son.
The road ahead of the two countries will be far from smooth. The economic tensions triggered by Japan’s export regulations in July just passed the 100th-day mark a couple of days ago. South Korea is reacting with the broad direction of strengthening the competitiveness of the domestic material, parts, and equipment industry, however, both countries will suffer greatly if the tensions continue for a long time and negatively affect the international division of labor and parts supply chain. The bilateral relations may fall into a deeper hole as the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) comes to an end on November 22 and the measure to liquidate Japanese companies’ assets for compensations to the South Korean victims of forced labor by Japan begins.
The recent attempts made by the two countries’ leaders to find solutions must have been brought about under the desire to prevent such a worst-case scenario. “If Japan withdraws economic regulations against South Korea, we are willing to reconsider the expiration of GSOMIA,” Prime Minister Lee recently said. Toshihiro Nikai, a representative pro-Korean figure and the secretary general of the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party, also said, “Japan should make the first gesture” to build amicable diplomatic relations. In addition, Prime Minister Abe mentioned South Korea as “the most important neighboring country” during his statement at the Japanese Diet on Friday, as well as in his answer to the Diet on Tuesday. Such a phrase was deleted from the diplomatic bluebook in May last year considering the worsening relations between the two countries, but Abe is openly using it at the Diet.
Diplomatic relations make step-by-step advances through person-to-person meetings, communication, and understanding. The two countries should utilize the enthronement of Japan’s emperor and the South Korean prime minister’s visit to Japan as breakthroughs to restore the bilateral relations.
Young-A Soh firstname.lastname@example.org