Posted June. 05, 2014 06:15,
Two Korea-China-Japan symposiums were held in Beijing late last month amid a midsummer-like day. One was an event jointly hosted by China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, the Dong-A Ilbo and Asahi Shimbun. The other was held by Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Dongseo University and Keio University. Both are held every year in three countries in turns, and China hosted this year`s symposiums.
I have participated these events for 10 years while working as a journalist in Asahi Shimbun, and have joined them twice after retiring last year. I have joined Korea-China-Japan discussions for the 12th straight year, now.
Based on my long time experience, I have come to notice the huge changes in the relations between the three countries. Initially, there was an atmosphere in which Korea and Japan were leading China. More recently, however, tensions have heightened between China and Japan and between Korea and Japan, and huge attention was drawn whenever China approached Korea and vice versa. This was more pronounced when President Park Geun-hye visited China last year.
From China`s perspective, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe`s visit to Yasukuni Shrine represents Japan`s history awareness and it is natural for China to share the same steps with Korea. This is why China set up a monument honoring Ahn Jung-geun in Harbin. But the installation has obvious purpose of trying to seize Korea.
From Japan`s view, it is a concern what Abe is targeting, but what is more concerning is that China is expanding military power and is open about its ambitions in the sea. I`m concerned about Korea joining China`s such efforts.
From Korea`s standpoint, it can but hold China dear given its enormous economic ties with China and China`s influence over North Korea. Though Abe`s words and actions are disturbing the fragile balance between the U.S. and China, I am concerned with Korea`s tilting towards China too much given its partnership with the U.S.
Against the background, Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Korea soon. This would mean further chilly stance by Japan, but North Korea will also have its nerves bristled up. North Korea and China are allies to each other, but there has been no come-and-go of heads of state since Kim Jong Un took leadership. The North must have been uncomfortable with President Park`s China visit, and will be even more frustrated to see the Chinese president visiting the South.
When I returned to Japan after the symposium, an announcement was made between North Korea and Japan. The North promised reinvestigation of kidnapped Japanese people and Japan decided to lift sanctions against the North when the latter puts it into action.
Have North Korea and Japan joined hands after being ostracized by South Korea and China? It was a surprising announcement that I have come to have such assumption. Kidnap issue is a difficult one meaning that there could be setbacks in progress. Yet North Korea documented the agreement and aired in TVs, a rare action by a communist country. This perhaps could mean a groundbreaking progress.
South Korea-China approach was not a bad thing for Japan after all. China is stimulating North Korea and leading it to reform by using the South Korea card.
However, while this game has been effective so far, recent activities in China are surpassing the danger limit. China has made highhanded actions on waters off the Philippines and Vietnam by sinking a Vietnamese fishing vessel. China stepped up provocative aircraft patrols over disputed Senkaku Islands in East China Sea.
Amid U.S.-Japan and China exchanging criticism on the matter, South Korea could lose position in foreign policy if it is seen as taking China`s sides. In short, balancing is necessary.
To solve this issue, it is important to recover relations with Japan as U.S. President Barack Obama advised. The key is the Japanese military`s sexual slavery issue, which South Korea should seriously persuade Japanese prime minister so that it is tackled by the two countries, not by others. No progress will be possible without resolving this issue, which Japan is also aware of, which necessitates concessions from both countries.
South Korea hasn`t had enough time to think about foreign policy strategy due to the ferry Sewol sinking and June 4 local elections. However, time is passing. Park Geun-hye diplomacy should haul its ship off to a new direction before having to surmount wild waves.
(Written by Yoshibumi Wakamiya, senior fellow of Japan Center for International Exchange and former Asahi Shimbun columnist)