Experts’ views on Seoul-Tokyo relations

Aug 14, 2020, 09:30 am

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AsiaToday reporter Jung Geum-min

This year marks the 75th anniversary of Korean independence from Japan’s colonial rule of the peninsula, but Seoul-Tokyo ties remain icy. The relationship between the two countries, which had been deteriorating due to the Moon Jae-in administration’s neutralization of the comfort women agreement, worsened further after South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered two Japanese companies to compensate the wartime workers. In particular, their ties have become chillier with Japan’s export restrictions. However, both South Korea and Japan are facing a new Cold War regime of US-China conflict and North Korean nuclear and missile threats. For the sake of peace and security in Asia, the two countries must make efforts to cooperate and establish a future-oriented relationship. Today, AsiaToday met with four experts on Japan to hear about their thoughts on solutions and prospects of Seoul-Tokyo relations. When asked about the current status of bilateral relations, they responded with comments like “the calm before the storm,” and “the worst.”

Yuji Hosaka, professor of Daeyang Humanity College, Sejong University, stressed that both countries should use the COVID-19 response phase as an “opportunity to improve relations.” The professor claimed that if both countries expand a space for negotiation through humanitarian cooperation, the access to other kinds of diplomatic tasks would also increase. “If the two countries cooperate on COVID-19 response, they will likely to cooperate on other diplomatic issues as well,” Prof. Hosaka said. “There is no solution if they try to deal the wartime labor issue directly. Emotional issues must be resolved first.”

Lee Won-deok, professor of Japanese studies at Kookmin University, pointed out that both countries need to make strategic judgment considering the situation in Northeast Asia, such as holding a summit. “ Lee stressed that South Korea should use its imagination and take advantage of Japan to shape its diplomacy with the United States, China, and Russia.

Dr. Jin Chang-soo, a former president of the Sejong Institute, stressed the need to freeze the situation to avoid further retaliation measures as there are various conflicts between the two countries, such as Japan’s export restrictions on semiconductor components, WTO complaint, and GSOMIA termination. Dr. Jin added that the two countries need to resolve the emotional confrontation between them by establishing an accurate perception of the strategic values of the other country, and establishing a strong determination to solve the issues. “Both countries need to be determined to resolve issues and start calculating strategic values of each other,” he said. 

Yang Ki-ho, a professor of Japanese Studies at Sungkonghoe University, maintained his position that the decade-long conflict between the two countries should be resolved. He suggested that Seoul and Tokyo to break away from the relationship overwhelmed by domestic politics and to increase their diplomatic opportunities. “Both countries need to communicate in various channels such as politics, press and academia. Through this, they should minimize misunderstandings and prejudices. Their conflict is manageable if they engage in dialogue with sincerity and respect for each other,” he said.

#Seoul-Tokyo relations 
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