5th Japan-Korea Future DialogueNow is the chance to improve the relationship

July 29, 2017

YKAA2004.jpgRelations between Japan and South Korea remain strained, with issues ranging from the 2015 "comfort women" agreement to the North Korean missile crisis adding confusion to the complex relationship between the neighbors. On July 29, 35 experts from Japan and South Korea convened in Tokyo for the 5th Japan-Korea Future Dialogue to discuss a range of issues facing the two countries and to lay out what needs to be done to build a better bilateral relationship.

Confronting today's issues to resolve past resentment and build a better future

P7290001.jpgKazuo Ogoura, a former Japanese ambassador to South Korea, said in his opening remarks that the Korean people cannot discuss the future without resolving past issues, while the Japanese feel past conflicts can be overcome by addressing the future. In order to resolve this contradiction, the two countries should stop avoiding the issues that need to be addressed and take action together to tackle them, he said.

YKAA1845.jpgMeanwhile former South Korean Ambassador to Japan Shin Kak-soon specified three points to consider when analyzing Japan-South Korea relations. The first is the two-track strategy adopted by South Korean President Moon Jae In of separating the handling of history-related issues from non-history matters like economic and security issues, as well as the agreement between the two countries to resume for the first time in six years the "shuttle diplomacy" initiative, where the leaders take turns visiting each other's country. Shin said this move was a significant step toward improving the relationship between the two nations.

YKAA1860.jpgThe second point is the unstable situation in Northeast Asia. Shin said North Korea's missile development is proceeding at a much faster pace than anyone had anticipated and that now was the last chance to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Last, Shin said countries needed to cooperate in order to address global issues as the world faces growing nationalism, and that the relationship between Japan and South Korea was at a turning point where the two nations need to take advantage of all potential opportunities to build trust and improve relations.

Silent majority seeks a better relationship between Japan and South Korea

YKAA1948.jpgThe first session discussed the theme of why the relationship between Japan and South Korea turned so sour, and what could be done to improve the situation. Referring to the latest Japan-South Korea Joint Public Opinion Poll organized jointly by The Genron NPO and the East Asia Institute (EAI) in South Korea, Genron NPO President Yasushi Kudo said that while a majority of the respondents in Japan and South Korea believe bilateral relations between the two countries are "bad," nearly 70 percent of the respondents from both countries said this negative sentiment needed to improve. "In view of the existence of this 'silent majority,' now is the time to think about the problem of Japan-South Korea relations," Kudo said.

YKAA2026.jpgSohn Yul, a professor of international economy at Yonsei University's Graduate School of International Studies, said that while history-related issues have held back economic and security cooperation between the two countries, the bilateral relationship has not decisively worsened. He cited examples from the survey, which showed that while the percentages of people expressing anti-Korean and anti-Japanese views remain high, the overall trend sees an improvement in perceptions of each other, with the younger generation in Korea having a more amicable impression of Japan, and a feeling of being closer to Japan and China.

Meanwhile Ogoura expressed concern about a sense of fatigue and distrust toward South Korea that was spreading in Japanese society, and that the younger generation in particular had a tendency to be inward-looking, with not many interested in taking concrete action to improve relations.

YKAA2085.jpgIchiro Fujisaki, a former Japanese ambassador to the United States, said: "The Japanese should make more effort to face the past. If more young people seriously studied history, then they will know how to react to hate speeches and criticisms of Korea. At the same time, I would like to see Koreans thinking more about the future. Had Japan and the United States continued to criticize each other about Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, their relationship would not have matured to become what it is today."

YKAA2176.jpgIn response to such a claim, Yun Duk-min , a former chancellor of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, countered that the worsening relationship between the two countries is partly due to Japanese politicians' views on history. "These past 20 years, Japan has revised its perception of history," Yun said, citing examples of how textbooks that used to take into account neighboring nations have changed to emphasize the position of one's own country. While Japanese ministers who made comments that irked South Korea used to be sacked, more recently the politicians are not made to take responsibility for similar remarks, and that has hurt the feelings of the Korean people, Yun said.

Global economic & political landscape affecting Japan-South Korea relations

YKAA2126.jpgSeiichi Kondo, a former commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan, said global trends are also affecting the relationship between Japan and South Korea. "Democracy spread around the world as the best system humankind has ever experienced, but today it is not working well," Kondo said. With self-preservation as the force that drives politics, economies and the media today, a dialogue between the citizens of both countries on issues of common concern is critical in improving bilateral ties, he said.

YKAA2256.jpgMeanwhile Shogo Aoki, president of the Junior Chamber International Japan, said globalism has deprived the younger generation of jobs, and has nurtured among them an increased sense of resentment and envy toward the wealthy. The key to addressing this problem is education that will strengthen democracy, and Aoki called for the need to nurture true "citizens" by teaching them how politics and economies work, and by nurturing their ability to judge whether a policy is beneficial.

YKAA2152.jpgKim Tae-Young, a former Korean minister of national defense, added that politicians and the media, which are supposed to shoulder the responsibility of leading public opinion, are being influenced by provocative comments made by anonymous authors on social networks, creating a misconception that such sentiment is the mainstream view. Kim called for more opportunities to exchange dialogue in public without hiding behind anonymity.

YKAA2328.jpgKorean lawmaker Lee Cheol-hee of South Korea's Minjoo Party said in order to strengthen the relationship between Japan and South Korea, there is a need to discover new shared values, and that was the responsibility of the elites and political leaders.

YKAA2347.jpgYuji Miyamoto, a former Japanese ambassador to China, said the pressing issue is to work out the kind of peace and development mechanism that must be built in East Asia, and who better to do that than Japan and South Korea, which share the same basic values. "What the politicians of both countries need to do is to take advantage of the diplomatic techniques they have acquired from past experience to build a forward-looking relationship, putting aside difficult issues for the moment," Miyamoto said.

YKAA2101.jpgIn closing the first session, Lee Sook-jong, president of the EAI, said that with the rise of China, both nations are failing to recognize the importance of the Japan-South Korea relationship. Furthermore, a passive attitude that expects the United States to step in during times of trouble has allowed both countries do nothing about the worsening relations, he said.


Japan and South Korea need to join hands to address North Korean issue

YKAA2465.jpgThe second session focused on the issue of North Korea and how to prevent the reclusive country from continuing with its development of nuclear arms. Yoji Koda, a former commander-in-chief of the Self-Defense Fleet and vice admiral of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, said concerned nations need to neutralize one of the three elements of North Korea's nuclear development -- "intent," "ability" and "resources" -- through either diplomatic measures like negotiations and sanctions, or military pressure.

YKAA2538.jpgMeanwhile, Yun, the former chancellor of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, listed three themes that Japan and South Korea should engage in to deal with the North Korean situation: (1) strengthening deterrents, (2) medium- and long-term efforts to denuclearize North Korea using the international framework, and (3) working to transform the Kim regime.

Is the concept of a nuclear deterrent outdated?

YKAA2588.jpgIn response to the opening remarks from Japanese and South Korean representatives, Hideshi Tokuchi, a former vice minister of defense for international affairs, kicked off the discussion by saying the nuclear deterrent itself proved to be effective during the Cold War and what should be questioned is not the reliability of the nuclear deterrent but the reliability of the United States.

Meanwhile, Miyamoto pointed out that the theory of nuclear deterrence worked because the United States and the Soviet Union operated under a common logic. "But North Korea may not necessarily be operating under the same logic and no one has proved whether conventional theories on deterrence are applicable to the situation in North Korea," he said.

YKAA2740.jpgJunya Nishino, a professor of political science at Keio University, said there is a consensus among countries as to the efficacy of the nuclear deterrent, but Japan and South Korea should not depend solely on the United States, and must be willing to pay the price of strengthening the efficacy of deterrence.

Will North Korea become a nuclear power?

YKAA2437.jpgViews were also divided on whether it was inevitable that North Korea will become a nuclear power. Former Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, speaking on the premise that the Stalinist state will complete its nuclear development, said, "We must use our wisdom in working out how we can prevent North Korea from using nuclear weapons." In contrast, Lee said the focus should be on preventing North Korea from completing its nuclear development since it will be much more difficult to prevent a nuclear attack than to prevent further development of nuclear weapons.

Park In-guk, a former Korean ambassador to the United Nations and president of the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies, said the fundamental solution to the problem was to prevent North Korea from developing fissile material.

On the other hand, many experts agreed that the North Korean nuclear missile crisis was a good opportunity for Japan, South Korea and the United States to expand cooperation. Fujisaki said rising concern over the U.S commitment to maintaining peace and stability in the region was a chance for Japan and South Korea to improve relations. Park said the "strategic tolerance" approach by concerned countries has merely increased North Korea's military threat, and with U.S. President Donald Trump insisting that the North Korea problem is a "top priority," now was the opportunity to take decisive action to resolve the situation.


Participants expressed mixed views on South Korean President Moon's willingness to pursue dialogue with North Korea. Fujisaki and Park questioned his moves, saying it was inappropriate at a time when the international community was jointly trying to apply pressure on Pyongyang. Lee, who belongs to Moon's Minjoo Party, defended him, saying the president did not believe dialogue alone would resolve the crisis and that he was merely considering dialogue as one of many options. Shin explained that given the unique situation of the two Koreas as a divided nation, the door to dialogue always needed to be open. "What's important is the combination of dialogue and pressure," Shin said.

Private-sector experts need to offer solutions to the crisis

Asked what role the private sector could play in mitigating the crisis, Miyamoto said no one had actually come up with a feasible plan to prevent North Korea from completing its nuclear development, and that experts from Japan and South Korea, two countries that face the immediate threat of North Korea's nuclear arsenal, should try to work together to produce a plan to solve the problem. "It should be the role of the experts in the private sector to come up with a list of concrete actions that Japan, the United States and South Korea can take," he said.

Ijuin pointed out the need to build a Northeast Asian economic cooperative effort that will include Russia, which has close ties with North Korea. He urged the private sector to be more active in suggesting solutions, and suggested a two-track approach of offering support to North Korea if it was difficult for governments to offer aid in the current political environment.

In wrapping up the two-day discussion, Genron NPO President Kudo said the polls showed how many citizens of Japan and South Korea felt the need to improve the relationship between the two countries, and now was an opportune moment as there were issues that concerned both countries. "Let's start building a Japan-South Korean relationship that is centered around problem-solving," Kudo said.

Read more:
⇒ Why is Japan-South Korea relationship so bad?
⇒ The 5th Japan-South Korea Joint Public Opinion Poll (2017)

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