The future of Japan-South Korea Relations and the significance of "The Second Japan Korea Future Dialogue"

July 23, 2014

Kazuo Ogoura, Former Ambassador to South Korea in conversation with Yasushi Kudo.

Video: Japanese Only

Kazuo OgouraKazuo Ogoura,Chairman of Japanese Delegates of Japan Korea Future Dialogue, Former Japanese Ambassador to South Korea and France

Yasushi KudoYasushi Kudo, President of The Genron NPO

Kudo: Last year we launched the Japan Korea Future Dialogue. Our desire was to have an ongoing transparent debate on how to deal with the issues in Japan-South Korea relations from the perspective of the citizens of both countries. This year will be the second of such event opening on 18 July.

You have been participating in this dialogue as the Chairman of the Japanese Delegation. What are your views on this year's Japan Korea Future Dialogue?

Transparent dialogue from the view of the citizens

Ogoura: Recently, China's Mr. Xi Jinping visited South Korea and there was a summit. However, there has not been a dialogue between the heads of state for Japan and South Korea for a while. At a time like this, I think a citizens' dialogue on the future of Japan and South Korea, indeed a "Japan Korea Future Dialogue", between ordinary people, from all different walks of life, is very significant.

One other thing, this time the venue will be in Seoul. When we hold this event in Japan we inevitably end up discussing issues in Japan, such as the right to collective self-defense. But, if we hold the event in South Korea, then the event is also significant because the dialogue will give Japanese people opportunities to think about issues in South Korea and the future direction of South Korean society. In that sense, the timing and the location are extremely good and I hope we can have a fruitful dialogue.  

Kudo: I also share your feelings and I went to the press conference in Seoul with great optimism (for reporting results of the joint public opinion poll). But nearby the building where the press conference was held, people against the Japan's move toward exercising the right to collective self-defense were holding a demonstration. Also when I was listening to the opinions of the journalists, I sensed that there was a lot of misunderstanding over the actions being taken in Japan now.

As the journalists told me, but there is no other open forum where the ordinary citizens of both countries to discuss their shared problems together in a transparent way. That is why I strongly emphasized that I wanted all the media to participate to the Dialogue and everybody to consider the issues together. When I did that in the press conference, everybody took an interest.

Ogoura: There are dialogues between intellectuals taking place at various levels in various kinds of forms. There have also been many dialogues between policymakers. But if you talk of ordinary citizens, having a candid dialogue at a national level, then I think it is rare to have a forum that creates the conditions for such an open dialogue, and that makes "Japan Korea Future Dialogue" significant. However, there are inevitably problems such as, when you make the forum open to all, are people able to say what they really think? On that point, while each party is acting with unwavering autonomy and self restraint, they must also be frank so the rules of the dialogue need to be decided from the outset.

A voice of calm composure exists in both countries

Kudo: This time we found at the Public Opinion Poll that 60% of Japanese and, 70% of South Koreans asked, felt that the state of Japan-South Korea relations was not good and that they should be improved somehow. I thought there would be a more nationalistic, heated situation but we found that there was a certain degree of calm composure among the people. Even so, I also get the feeling it will be hard to create an ongoing debate on the future of both countries. Amb. Ogoura, do you have any ideas on this matter?

Ogura: Although it is cynical, I believe we should not place so much importance on the results of this opinion poll that those results drag them forwards. What I mean is that, in this kind of opinion poll, if a problem is seen to exist then it will come to the surface as a matter of course. However, when we look at the real situation between Japan and South Korea, trade, tourism and investment are actually increasing. In many respects things are going extremely well and the situation should also be seen from this perspective. As for the significance of our Dialogue, everybody says Japan-South Korea relations are bad, but I'm wondering it is true. I think that one reason for the significance of this Dialogue is that we remind each other not to forget the positive aspects of the relationship between Japan and South Korea.

As for the question of "How can the poor relations between Japan and South Korea be improved?", I think everybody in the government has to give this thought but the Dialogue is important because there is a need to increase ordinary citizens' recognition of the positive aspects of the bilateral relationship.

In democratic society every citizen should be responsible

Kudo: I agree with what you have just said but if the Dialogue becomes proxy war between the governments it will be meaningless. My point is still, let's look to the future and consider the currently existing issues together, from the perspective of ordinary people. However, if we are not careful enough, we might fall into a cycle of explaining nothing but opinions on the governments. I deliberately try not to do this but how do you see this matter?

Ogoura: There are people who say that the bilateral relationship between Japan and South Korea is now bad and there must be a summit soon. Japan and South Korea are democratic societies, so I think a bad bilateral relationship is the responsibility of the people. In a democratic society, the politics are regulated not by the politicians, but by the people. So, if a great many people think that the relationship between Japan and South Korea is bad then it is a case of the people has made the relationship bad. Citizens must not shift responsibility onto someone else. It may be true to say "The reporting in the mass media is no good" or "The politicians are no good" in an authoritarian society but it cannot be justifiably said in a democratic society. If the Japan-South Korea bilateral relationship is bad then I think it is the public who should propose how to make it better.

Kudo: I agree with you. I said the same things at the press conference in Seoul but most people did not understand. Even so, as you say, this is the nature of a democratic society and this is precisely because I want to have an open transparent dialogue where there should be not one voice but many varied opinions. I would like to create some flow of opinions with this principle of democracy as its foundation, but will there be atmosphere this time, in Seoul, where we can create a new discussion, or is there a lot of apprehension and uncertainty?

A dialogue that keeps the past in mind while discussing the future

0714kudo_ogura1.jpgOgoura: I think it is going to take some time. We should not expect to see something new appear this time at the Dialogue in Seoul. I just don't think it will happen. It takes time to make people conscious and to make people take action. Even so, we need The Genron NPO and other NGOs to be the one of the catalysts, or stimuli, to get the country and its people to recognize the problems as their own and then take action. You cannot just tell the people to have a dialogue. It won't work. In other words, we need a mediator. This time, if we can just create an atmosphere where everyone can start thinking these matters and take action to go forward, I think it will be worthwhile.

Kudo: I used the expression you mentioned, "a catalytic role" at the press conference. We do not play the leading role, the people do that. I want to set the trigger to make that happen. We think that somebody still has to create a stage for dialogues with blood, sweat and tears. I hope we can frame a debate where Japanese and South Korean people have the opportunity to discuss many issues from the citizens' perspective and face the future together.

I get the feeling that there is going to be very tough debate at The Second Japan-South Korea Future Dialogue on the 18 July but I recreate it to a good positive dialogue.

Ogura: I think we have to foster a forum where people speak about the future not the past. However, that does not mean we can ignore the past, I want people to keep the past in mind while they speak about and look to the future.

Kudo: We will be joined politicians, academics, journalists and intellectuals to make a panel of 13 people participating from Japan. The discussions of the Japan Korea Future Dialogue will be on the website. Thank you very much for your time today, Amb. Ogoura.

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