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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 13)

2018/02/13 07:07

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Seoul-Tokyo ties

Two sides should narrow differences over history

A summit between President Moon Jae-in and visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week only showed both countries still have a long way to go before having a future-oriented relationship.

A pessimistic tone dominated the meeting as the two leaders failed to narrow differences over a thorny historical issue: Japan's sexual enslavement of Korean women for its soldiers before and during World War II.

Moon and Abe shared the view that Seoul and Tokyo should work together closely to cope better with the North Korea nuclear issue. They also recognized the need to move toward future-oriented ties.

Regrettably, however, the two heads of state made an aborted attempt to go beyond the sex slavery issue, which has long been the source of discord, clouding bilateral ties. If the two leaders keep locking horns, they will miss an opportunity to settle old problems, make reconciliation and build a true friendship.

Seoul-Tokyo relations have worsened, especially since Moon took power following the impeachment of then President Park Geun-hye last year. The reason is that President Moon has sought to revise or scrap a controversial 2015 deal to address the slavery row.

An independent fact-finding mission found that former President Park hastily and recklessly struck the deal with the Japanese without reflecting the voices of surviving victims. But the Moon administration has decided not to dump the deal. Instead, it wants to amend the deal to help the victims recover their honor and heal their scars.

But Japan is maintaining a firm stance against any change. Abe refused to budge an inch during the meeting with Moon, which took place Friday on the sidelines of the opening of the PyeongChang Olympics. Abe called on Seoul to honor the deal sincerely to solve the sex slavery dispute in an "irreversible" manner.

In response, Moon urged Abe to face up squarely to history so that the two countries can forge future-oriented ties. He also expressed his hope for mutual understanding and true friendliness between the countries.

The two leaders only found themselves agreeing to disagree on the historical matter. On a somewhat more positive note, they agreed to schedule a three-way summit between South Korea, Japan and China as soon as possible in Tokyo.

Aside from the slavery issue, Abe has provoked the ire of South Koreans by trying to overstep into such issues as the annual Seoul-Washington military exercises and the brewing inter-Korean detente.

He should not have told Moon what to do about the drills, which have been delayed until after the Olympics and the Paralympics. He also went too far in expressing worries about North Korea's conciliatory move, describing it as "smile diplomacy."