Strengthening Democracy through Power of Words
2016 / 09 / 13
Japan and South Korea should do more to improve their relations to ensure stability in Asia in view of the forthcoming U.S. presidential election and China's growing political assertiveness in the region, experts and researchers agreed at a recent track 2 dialogue between the two countries.
The fourth Japan-South Korea Future Dialogue brought together the two countries' opinion leaders in Seoul for two days from Sept. 1 under the joint sponsorship of the independent Japanese think tank Genron NPO and South Korea's East Asia Institute.
The world economy has expanded rapidly in the past years following attempts driven by the United States to spread a new style of liberalism globally, but these moves also have left greater state-to-state or intrastate gaps, Sohn Yul, a Yonsei University professor, noted in a keynote report at an open session on the second day of the dialogue.
The middle classes in each country have dwindled as a consequence while the political situation has become bipolar, as shown by the emergence of populist politicians like U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Sohn observed.
Even if Democrat Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, isolationist and protectionist moves will inevitably grow as the United States becomes increasingly inward-looking, he predicted. Since calls for a tougher China policy are expected to increase in the United States, Japan and South Korea are likely to be urged to play new roles as U.S. allies against China, he said.
Japan and South Korea should separate the long-standing issues stemming from their different perceptions of Japan's colonial rule of Korea until 1945 from efforts to strengthen cooperation in the security field, Sohn said.
About 38,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed in Japan while there are some 28,000 in South Korea, noted Hideshi Tokuchi, a senior fellow of Japan's National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
Those in South Korea are mainly Army troops, but those in Japan are mostly from the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marines, and therefore, Japan and South Korea should better combine their policies to support the U.S. military presence in the region so that the U.S. military can maintain its operational capabilities in Northeast Asia, said Tokuchi, who formerly served as vice defense minister of international affairs.
Yoshihide Soeya, a professor at Keio University, referred to a gap in Japanese and South Korean people's views of China, as reconfirmed in recent public opinion polls conducted in the two countries by The Genron NPO and East Asia Institute.
Because it would be rather unwise for the two countries to try to close the gap quickly, they should overcome it while considering coexistence with China from a mutually acceptable point in the long run, he said in a keynote report for the Japanese side.
Noting that China's recent unilateral behavior cannot be contained by Japan alone, Soeya said that because there should be stronger partnerships in East Asia as a whole, it may be potentially possible to beef up security cooperation between Japan and South Korea.
Soeya stressed the need for the peoples of Japan and South Korea to come up with common visions for the future of Asia, and jointly present their views for coexistence to their Chinese counterparts.
While noting that a proposal for coexistence is unlikely to be fully brought to the inner circles of the Chinese Communist Party leadership, "our voices will reach China, if delivered to citizens there," he said.
Kazuo Ogoura, a former Japanese Ambassador to South Korea, mentioned that Japan, China and South Korea equally face a continuous aging of society due to a declining birthrate.
Their common challenges may provide an occasion for people in the three countries to think together about a future vision for mutual coexistence from now on, he said. Ogoura, a councilor of The Japan Foundation, served as moderator on the Japanese side.
In a discussion after the series of introductory remarks, Masahiro Kawai, a professor at Tokyo University, predicted that there will eventually be a long spell of low economic growth, such as seen in Japan, in China and South Korea, too.
What kind of reforms must be implemented to resuscitate the mature economies after years of high growth? This will become a common issue for countries in East Asia as a whole, Kawai said.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative will be a "foothold" to help establish relations of coexistence and co-prosperity in East Asia, if China and South Korea can be persuaded to form a broader-based free-trade scheme among Japan, China and South Korea, Kawai said. He was a former dean at the Asia Development Bank Institute and former deputy vice minister of finance for international affairs.
According to the findings of a series of public opinion polls mutually conducted in Japan and South Korea, the younger the polled person and if he or she has the experience of visiting each other's country, the better they feel about each other's country.
Emphasizing the tendency seen among the two countries' peoples, Lee Byung Hee of the Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) said that if young people's mutual visits are increased between the two countries, their long-outstanding issues will be solved naturally over time.
If the problems regarding the gaps in their historical perceptions cannot be solved quickly, the two countries should grapple with easier-to-address matters first by shelving the knotty problems, Lee said.
Jung Sun Woo, an editorial writer of the leading South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo, and Chin Mi Kyung of Kyung Hee University called attention to concerns among South Korean people about the course of Japan's national security policy following the enactment in September 2015 of a new law that allows Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense in certain instances.
There will be no disquiet if Japan's security policy remains the same, Jung said. Then, he asked, "How will Japan's security policy change if it revises Article 9 of the Constitution?" The article is the core of Japan's war-renouncing Constitution.
A look at Japan's military policy since the 19th century shows a change from an Asian-oriented militarist stance to a European-oriented stance with weight on such values as human rights, democracy and peace, Chin noted. In these circumstances, many South Korean people are concerned that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration may return to an Asian-oriented policy stance by revising Article 9, Chin said.
Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party member of Japan's House of Representatives, replied that a possible revision of the article will not denote Japan's return to militarism. He formerly served as vice minister of foreign affairs.
Expanding on Yamaguchi's remarks, Soeya said that because Japan's national defense system has been fully prepared with the enactment of the new law, there is no longer a need for Japan to revise Article 9.
Japanese politicians are unwilling to accept Japanese troop operations in support of U.S. military activities in an area that is far from Japan, Soeya said. What they are really interested in is only Japan's defense, he said.
If the article is revised, it may open the way for Japan to fully exercise its right to collective self-defense, as prescribed under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, but this only means that Japan will become ready to contribute more actively to achieving world peace, Soeya said. "That is an idea that is quite opposite to militarism," he said.
Wrapping up the discussions at the end of the session, Genron NPO President Yasushi Kudo said that the dialogue had revealed a wide gap in views between Japan and South Korea, not just among ordinary people but also among their opinion leaders.
But, if the two countries become aware of the seriousness of lacking basic understanding about mutually important issues, it could lead to productive discussions with each other, he said. "This is based on our experience obtained through the Tokyo-Beijing Forum meetings" launched as private-sector dialogues by The Genron NPO and its Chinese partner group in 2005, Kudo said.
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