Tokyo should drop opposition to Seoul in G7
Japan has reportedly opposed South Korea's joining an expanded G7 summit, citing Seoul's stance was not "in lockstep" with the existing members toward North Korea and China. With myriad contentious issues prevailing between Seoul and Tokyo, it's difficult to grasp how this latest step will in any way improve bilateral ties.
Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported a top Cheong Wa Dae official as saying that that there was nothing surprising about Japan's consistency in not acknowledging or repenting for the harm it had afflicted on a neighboring country.
When U.S. President Trump raised the idea in late May of seeking to include South Korea, Australia, India and Russia within the group saying that the current G7 format does not represent "what's going on in the world," South Korea responded positively.
The G7 is a prestigious grouping of advanced economies where global issues have a chance for resolution. Thus President Moon Jae-in promptly accepted Trump's invitation, even though there was skepticism that by inviting the Indo-Pacific countries of South Korea and India, the U.S. president was trying to counter the rise of China.
Japan as a member of the G7 along with the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy can duly debate any possible changes to the existing format. Britain and Canada have opposed Russia's invitation since it was expelled from the G8 over its annexation of Crimea.
Nevertheless, an opportunity to work together in a neutral venue such as the G7 could help tide over differences between Seoul and Tokyo on trade and wartime forced labor issues. Japan last July restricted the export of three core materials needed by South Korean semiconductor and display panel manufacturers, largely viewed as retaliation against a ruling by the Korean Supreme Court ordering Japanese firms to compensate the surviving victims of wartime forced labor. The two neighboring countries have since engaged in tit-for-tat retaliatory measures.
Recently, Seoul reopened the complaint with the World Trade Organization as the year-long trade friction with Japan has continued, suggesting that the two neighboring countries may engage in a prolonged trade dispute without a clear winner.
It's regrettable to see the two leading Asian economies divided at a time of an unprecedented pandemic with the accompanying economic fallout. As the Kyodo News report stated,Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may want to maintain diplomatic superiority as the only Asian member of the G7. Such narrow-mindedness will not serve any nation well when the International Monetary Fund forecast a 4.9 percent contraction for the global economy in 2020, and the OECD a 7.6 percent contraction if the pandemic resurges.
Both Moon and Abe should use their respective leaderships to find a way to work together to resolve history-based conflicts and forge a future-oriented partnership.