By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, June 15 (Yonhap) — South Korea and Japan should reset their often-prickly ties in light of structural changes in global security and economic situations or risk a “twilight divorce,” pundits said Monday.
Next week, the Northeast Asian neighbors will mark the 50th anniversary of the normalization of their diplomatic ties. But they are far from a celebratory mood, mired in unrelenting history disputes.
Another obstacle is Japan’s claim of sovereignty over Dokdo, a set of rocky outcroppings in the East Sea.
Many say the diplomatic deal half-a-century ago has become outdated with the end of the Cold War, the rapid rise of China and the narrowed economic gap between South Korea and Japan.
“A new paradigm is necessary,” Cho Sei-young, a professor at Dongseo University in Busan said. “The 1965 regime has reached its limit. The time has come for South Korea-Japan relationship 2.0.”
People not only in South Korea but also in Japan tend to get emotional over diplomatic issues, he pointed out.
Cho, a former director-general of the South Korean Foreign Ministry’s Northeast Asian affairs bureau, suggested “cooperation for reunification” of the two Koreas as the new pillar of the 2.0 era.
On history, he added, Japanese leaders should first stop making ludicrous remarks and South Korea needs to exert some leniency.
Lee Won-deok, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, also said the Seoul-Tokyo relations require “adjustments.”
“The premise is that neither can move out of the neighborhood,” he said. “The case of Western Europe during the U.S.-Soviet Union Cold War can be a lesson.”
He emphasized the importance of Japan’s attitude, as shown in Germany-France and Germany-Poland relations, adding, “But we also have to bear in mind leniency by France and Poland.”
South Koreans believe that Japan remains reluctant to admit its responsibility for wartime atrocities, including the sexual enslavement of Korean and other Asian women.
Such a view has gained weight due to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s dubious history perception.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se openly said his government will closely monitor Abe’s speech in August to commemorate the end of World War II.
“Two other key things are (ongoing) talks on the comfort women issue and Japan’s UNESCO world heritage bid,” he said during a recent meeting with reporters at his official residence.
Seoul is opposed to Tokyo’s push to get some of its early industrial facilities, where Koreans worked as slave laborers in the 1940s, registered as world heritage sites.
Japanese officials have argued that the apology and compensation issue over its past wrongdoing has been settled in a 1965 agreement with South Korea and war statements by former Japanese leaders.
Japanese scholars agreed that both countries need to develop a new agenda to promote mutual trust.
“It’s understandable that the history issue is of great importance. But current South Korea-Japan relations are too much focused on history,” said Kimiya Tadashi, a professor at Tokyo University.
He cited huge losses from strained relations and sure-fire gains from closer cooperation.
“It’s a matter of political choice to move toward creative and cooperative ties,” he said.
Kan Kimura, a professor at Kobe University in Japan, said South Korea-Japan relations are at a make-or-break stage.
“They will eventually face a ‘twilight divorce’ if the current stand-offs are left unresolved,” he warned.
He raised the need for joint projects that can be done only between neighboring countries.
“Establishing electric networks can be an example,” he said. “Germany decided to abandon nuclear power plants as France provides a stable supply of electricity via the EU electric networks,” he said.