South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers met in Nagoya Saturday and agreed to seek a bilateral summit to take place on the sidelines of a trilateral summit meeting among South Korea, China, and Japan in China next month. Seoul and Tokyo have not held an official summit for over a year since September last year, so if held, it will serve as an important chance to resolve conflicts between the neighbors.
South Korea’s decision to temporarily put off the termination of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), just six hours before it was to expire, was intended to buy time for diplomatic negotiations. It was also a result based on the two countries’ agreement that they should stop their bilateral ties from worsening further to the point they might not recover. Therefore, it is useless to discuss which side has won or made concessions at this point. Still, remarks are being constantly made by government officials that irritate the other side.
While South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae has stressed that its decision regarding the security pact was based on Japan’s intent to reconsider the trade curbs on South Korea, Tokyo claimed that Seoul had first conveyed its willingness to stop WTO dispute settlement procedures. In particular, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reportedly told his aides that Japan made no concessions while South Korea made the decision due to strong pressure by the United States. Apparently, both sides are warning that they can go back to the state of conflicts anytime. Under the circumstances, we cannot even be sure if the summit will take place as scheduled next month.
Such a childish war of nerves is happening because both governments are tied by domestic politics, being highly conscious of public sentiment and their base of support. Domestic politics is even affecting diplomacy between countries. Moreover, Seoul and Tokyo face a difficult challenge regarding the issue of history. Legal controversies are likely to continue over the issues of Japan’s colonization, an incomplete treaty between the two countries, compensation, and indemnification. In reality, however, politicians are not resolving but fueling these controversies.
Both countries should not miss a precious opportunity to reconcile with each other while being obsessed with political greed. Granted, national leaders and politicians cannot be aloof from public sentiment. Yet, they should not forget their duty to bring together public sentiment. Otherwise, it would be an act that will be condemned for a long time. We have seen enough brinkmanship diplomacy thus far. Now is the time we need truly excellent statesmanship.