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Tadashi Kimiya,Professor, the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies
Kan Kimura, Professor, Kobe University Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies
Hidehiko Mukoyama, Senior Economist, the Japan Research Institute Center for Pacific Business Studies
Yasushi Kudo, President of The Genron NPO
Noted Japanese researchers have called for Japan and South Korea to make steady, mutual efforts to mend fences while reminding themselves of their shared interests, and years of citizens' interchanges between the two countries. Efforts to this end are becoming more important than ever as Japan's diplomatic presence on the Korean Peninsula appears to be declining amid South Korea's moves to deepen relations with China. Japan and South Korea have been at odds over a gap in their historical perceptions of Japan's wartime acts in Korea and other parts of Asia, and a bilateral dispute over the ownership of an isle in the Sea of Japan.
Japan and South Korea should have common interests from now on as both countries' societies are aging, with their economies expected to continue shrinking, said Kan Kimura, a professor at the Kobe University Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies. Specifically, Japan and South Korea will be able to work together in the formation of a stable and sustainable society in the region, he said.
Hidehiko Mukoyama, a senior economist at the Japan Research Institute Center for Pacific Business Studies, said that Japan and South Korea will have common interests if they integrate their markets. Japan helped South Korea overcome a monetary crisis from 2008 to 2009 while South Korea extended a helping hand to Japan when the country was hit by a devastating earthquake in March 2011, Mukoyama said. "We should mutually recall this," he said.
In view of the changing balance of power in East Asia, Japan and South Korea are close to being on an equal footing, said Tadashi Kimiya, a professor at the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies. The two countries resemble each other in terms of positions in international relations, he said. "This means that the positions of Japan and South Korea toward relations with the United States, China and North Korea are fairly similar as a matter of fact," Kimiya said.
Relations between Japan and South Korea are unlikely to improve in the immediate future as the feelings of Japanese and South Koreans toward each other's country remain unfavorable, as indicated in a recent opinion survey carried out in both countries. But Mukoyama noted that the two countries have an accumulation of citizens' interchanges with each other since the 1990s. "This should be better used as an asset in relations between Japan and South Korea," he said. "Japan's society is diversified while some people say South Korea's political parties adopt a uniformly tough stance toward Japan, but I don't agree," said Kimiya, director of the Center for Contemporary Korean Studies.
Japan and South Korea are anxiously trying to find a way to improve their relations, but government officials and citizens in the two countries should be aware that Japan and South Korea have more serious issues to share, he said. The opinion survey was organized by The Genron NPO, a non-profit, independent Japanese think tank, and its South Korean partner, the East Asia Institute, before the second meeting of the Japan-South Korea Future Dialogue forum to be held in Seoul on July 18.
The three researchers were invited to discuss the prospects for relations between the two Asian neighbors at a Genron NPO-organized debate program on the Internet. Genron NPO President Yasushi Kudo served as the moderator at the discussion.
The survey found that an unexpectedly large number of South Korean people consider Japan to be a military threat, according to Kudo. Some people polled in South Korea replied that there may be a military conflict between Japan and South Korea, Kudo said. Should a military conflict occur between Japan and South Korea, it would involve the South Korean-controlled island in the Sea of Japan, called Takeshima by Japan and Dokdo by South Korea, but few people favor Japan's use of force to change the status quo, even among those who take the hardest stance against South Korea over the territorial issue, Kimiya said. But, because there are memories of the war behind the South Korean people's sentiment toward Japan, they are concerned that Japan might take action to change the status quo, he said.
"In the past one to two years, I've been often asked, 'Is the South Korean economy really in a dangerous situation?' but these people's understanding of South Korea is believed to be based on magazine and other media reports," Mukoyama said. The fact that ordinary Japanese people's understanding of South Korea has been thus influenced and worsened should be taken seriously, he said.
"Transparency" must be a "key word" in removing obstacles to repairing relations between Japan and South Korea, said Kimura. According to the opinion survey, many Japanese supported the idea of bringing Japan's case over the territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague in order to have it resolved under international law. But this finding rather can be taken to mean that Japan will not use a military option to solve the dispute, Kimura said.
Japan will be able to remove South Korea's anxiety over the matter if it declares that Japan will not resort to any military means or if it clarifies its readiness to freeze the current situation before it appeals to the court, he said. China replaced the United States as South Korea's biggest export partner in 2003 and China also dislodged Japan as South Korea's biggest import partner in 2007, Mukoyama noted. Therefore, it is only natural for South Korea to deepen its relations with China, he said.
The opinion survey found that South Korea's sense of closeness toward China is growing at a people's level. Exchanges of visits and commerce in goods are active between China and South Korea, but it is doubtful if citizens' interchanges between the two countries have become as active as between Japan and South Korea, Kimiya said. Therefore, the sense of closeness toward China found among South Korean people should not be overestimated, he said.
A recent agreement between Japan and North Korea on reopening investigations of abducted or missing Japanese in the communist state will contribute to demonstrating to South Korea and China Japan's political presence on the Korean Peninsula to some extent, Kimiya said.
The worsening Japan-South Korea relationship can be cited as a reason behind Tokyo's active approach to North Korea to clinch the agreement, in other words, Japan is using its North Korea diplomacy as a tool to check South Korea, Kimiya said. But, if Japan-North Korea relations are to be pushed from now on, relations between the two Koreas, and relations between Japan and South Korea should also be promoted, he said. Otherwise, "miscommunication" will occur between the countries concerned, causing relations to stall between all the countries involved, Kimiya said. The ideal scenario would see Japan cooperating with South Korea in North Korea diplomacy while improving relations with North Korea in a manner that contributes to better relations between Japan and South Korea, he said.
Kimura said that Japan's attempt to obtain North Korea's pledge to provide information about the fate of kidnapped or missing Japanese nationals is seen by South Korea as an obstacle to efforts to reunify the two Koreas. Japan's soured relations with South Korea are partly attributable to Japan's failure to demonstrate to the people or the government of South Korea why Japan is important to South Korea, he said. Japan should clearly show to South Korea how its negotiations with North Korea on their pending issues will contribute to improving relations between the two Koreas, Kimura said.