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Bipartisan efforts to resolve Korea-Japan dispute

Posted July. 19, 2019 07:55,   

Updated July. 19, 2019 07:55


South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the leaders of five political parties Thursday agreed to engage in bipartisan responses focused on a diplomatic resolution of Japan’s export regulations and form a National Assembly-level special committee with a precondition of close communication with the government. However, the ruling and opposition parties showed a gap when it came to specific diplomatic measures to ease the tensions between South Korea and Japan.

It is desirable that both ruling and opposition parties have come to a consensus, at least in principle, that cool-headed bipartisan reactions are needed for the current situation. It is also positive that the Moon administration expressed its willingness to adopt “flexible measures” for a diplomatic resolution, saying, “All suggestions will be put on the table.” The South Korean government, which has advocated for the so-called “1+1 option,” in which Korean and Japanese companies are required to make financial contributions to compensate the victims of forced conscription, showed a more open attitude towards diplomatic negotiations, rather than sticking to the proposal.

It’s been said that the South Korean government is also considering the “2+1 option,” in which the South Korean government and corporations, and Japanese corporations are involved, as well as the “1+1+α option,” in which the victims who have already won in court are compensated by South Korean and Japanese companies while the rest are taken care of by the South Korean government. The government, however, has not given an answer to Japan’s request for a third-party arbitration panel, which was due yesterday. Although Tokyo has repeatedly stated that the case will be taken the International Court of Justice (ICJ) unless Seoul agrees to the arbitration panel proposal, Tokyo will wait and see how Seoul reacts before deciding the timing of involving the ICJ, according to Japanese media.

Now that the South Korean government is open to a more flexible resolution through negotiations, the Japanese government will also have to revoke its unilateral export controls and come to the discussion table. However, a visible change in Japan’s attitude cannot be expected in the near future. Following the Japanese Upper House election this weekend, a heated discussion between South Korea and Japan will unfold at the General Council of the World Trade Organization in Geneva next week. Tokyo will also proceed with steps to remove South Korea from the “white list.”

Despite such noise and bustle, quiet diplomatic movements must be conducted through behind-the-scenes contacts between the two countries. As there is also a growing concern within Japan that the recent export regulations by Japan will eventually have adverse effects on Japanese companies themselves, the Abe administration will not be able to take their measures to extremes. Against this backdrop, the South Korean government must focus on garnering cooperation from the political circles, including the opposition parties, as the issue surrounding the past history between Korea and Japan requires the consensus of not only its victims but also the public for its meaningful resolution.