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Ruling party candidate slams Japan's opposition to end-of-war declaration

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Participants of the KOR-ASIA Forum 2021 pose during a photo session of the forum at the Westin Josun Seoul hotel in central Seoul, Thursday. From left are National Assembly Deputy Speaker Chung Jin-suk, People's Party presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo, People Power Party candidate Yoon Seok-youl, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, The Korea Times and Hankook Ilbo Chairman Seung Myung-ho, Democratic Party of Korea candidate Lee Jae-myung and Justice Party candidate Sim Sang-jeung. Korea Times photo by Hong In-kee
Participants of the KOR-ASIA Forum 2021 pose during a photo session of the forum at the Westin Josun Seoul hotel in central Seoul, Thursday. From left are National Assembly Deputy Speaker Chung Jin-suk, People's Party presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo, People Power Party candidate Yoon Seok-youl, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, The Korea Times and Hankook Ilbo Chairman Seung Myung-ho, Democratic Party of Korea candidate Lee Jae-myung and Justice Party candidate Sim Sang-jeung. Korea Times photo by Hong In-kee

Main opposition candidate blames Moon government for soured Seoul-Tokyo ties

By Nam Hyun-woo

Presidential candidates including Lee Jae-myung of ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) and Yoon Seok-youl of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) put forth diplomatic visions on how to mend the soured relations between South Korea and Japan during the KOR-ASIA Forum 2021 hosted by The Korea Times and its sister paper the Hankook Ilbo, Thursday.

As well as Lee and Yoon, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, Justice Party candidate Sim Sang-jeung, People's Party candidate Ahn Cheol-soo and chairmen of the DPK and the PPP expounded on various ideas on improving bilateral ties during the forum held at the Westin Josun Seoul hotel in central Seoul, under the theme, "New Korea-Japan Relations: For a Future with Cooperation and Respect." They all agreed Seoul and Tokyo are important partners for each other and their relations should be improved for their future co-prosperity.

"In diplomacy between countries, the most important principle should be pragmatism for the sake of the people," Lee said during a congratulatory speech. "Issues of history and territory should be handled firmly, because it is about each country's sovereignty. On the other side, however, expanding social and economic exchanges and cooperation between the two countries will benefit the people of both countries."

Ruling Democratic Party of Korea presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung delivers a congratulatory speech during the KOR-ASIA Forum 2021 at the Westin Josun Seoul hotel in central Seoul, Thursday. Korea Times photo by Lee Han-ho
Ruling Democratic Party of Korea presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung delivers a congratulatory speech during the KOR-ASIA Forum 2021 at the Westin Josun Seoul hotel in central Seoul, Thursday. Korea Times photo by Lee Han-ho

Lee cited the recent debate over Japan's apparent opposition to South Korean President Moon Jae-in's proposal to declare an official end to the Korean War, in an effort to get North Korea to participate in talks for peace and denuclearization. Tokyo is assumed to be opposing the proposal due to Pyongyang's military threats and its abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and '80s.

"I think the Japanese political circle can make such claims because they serve Japan's interests," Lee said. "For us, however, it is important to declare an end to the war and move toward mutual prosperity (between the two Koreas). And South Korea should make sure of this stance to Japan. However, the two sides should make efforts to prevent this difference from profoundly aggravating Seoul-Tokyo relations."

Lee noted the 1998 declaration between then-President Kim Dae-jung and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi contained the desirable form of Seoul-Tokyo relations. In the declaration, the two leaders promised to build a new partnership between them upon Japan's recognition and apologies for its 1910-45 colonial rule.

PPP candidate Yoon also cited the Kim-Obuchi declaration as a reference for future relations between South Korea and Japan, but stressed that the current Moon Jae-in administration failed to observe the declaration as domestic politics were reflected in diplomatic affairs during Moon's tenure.

"Since forming bilateral ties in 1965, South Korea has been striving to build a neighborly friendship with Japan, because we know that the two countries' cooperation will pave the way for mutual prosperity," Yoon said.

"However, under the current administration, bilateral relations plunged to their worst ever, because the government did not prioritize the national interest and used diplomacy for domestic politics. Also, it was because the government focused on the past, rather than the future."

People Power Party presidential candidate Yoon Seok-youl delivers a congratulatory speech during the KOR-ASIA Forum 2021 at the Westin Josun Seoul hotel in central Seoul, Thursday. Korea Times photo by Lee Han-ho
People Power Party presidential candidate Yoon Seok-youl delivers a congratulatory speech during the KOR-ASIA Forum 2021 at the Westin Josun Seoul hotel in central Seoul, Thursday. Korea Times photo by Lee Han-ho

Yoon pledged that, if he is elected president, he will open a channel for shuttle diplomacy, in which "the two countries' leaders can communicate on any subject," adding, "no matter how difficult the issue will be, if we can find common ground and build trust with each other, we can even overcome the history issue."

Shuttle diplomacy usually refers to negotiations conducted by a third party to mediate between two sides that are reluctant to talk to each other. In terms of Seoul-Tokyo relations, however, the term is used to describe holding regular summits between their respective leaders.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said in his speech that the government is "ready to talk with Japan at any time," adding that bilateral cooperation is critical in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and other global issues.

During the forum, DPK Chairman Song Young-gil said he describes himself as a pro-Japanese politician, but stressed he wants to be friends with a country that pursues democracy and a market economy, not a country which justifies colonial rule and inherits its legacy from this.

"Using municipal, cultural and economic exchanges as a tool of restriction will not benefit the two countries' progress," Song said. "Political matters should be handled politically, and economic and cultural exchanges should be separate from politics."

PPP Chairman Lee Jun-seok stressed that the government should refrain from using bilateral relations for domestic politics, noting the Moon administration has flip-flopped on its promise to renegotiate the 2015 Korea-Japan agreement on former sex slaves, which was signed by the previous Park Geun-hye administration.

Participants in the forum reviewed the current diplomatic dynamics between Korea and Japan and explored new ways forward in relations between the neighboring countries, in recognition of the necessity for future-oriented relations between them.

"Including resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic and climate response, there are too many issues requiring cooperation between the two countries," The Korea Times and Hankook Ilbo Chairman Seung Myung-ho said during his opening remarks. "New Korea-Japan relations should not just return to their pre-conflict state, but should pursue a future-oriented partnership based on mutual respect and cooperation."

During the forum, Gachon University chair professor Ra Jong-yil, who served as a former Korean ambassador to Japan and a presidential secretary for national security, said that there was no need for South Korea to recognize with Japan's views on historical issues, but it should have a basic understanding on why Japan has such ideas.

Shigeru Ishiba, a former Japanese defense minister and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) secretary-general, said Japan should have a proper understanding of history, and should build trust with Korea to address common challenges such as faltering birthrates, ageing societies and a slew of other economic tasks.

Ruling Democratic Party of Korea presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung, left, shakes hands with main opposition People Power Party candidate Yoon Seok-youl during the KOR-ASIA Forum 2021 at the Westin Josun Seoul hotel in central Seoul, Thursday. At Center is The Korea Times and Hankook Ilbo Chairman Seung Myung-ho. Korea Times photo by Hong In-kee
Ruling Democratic Party of Korea presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung, left, shakes hands with main opposition People Power Party candidate Yoon Seok-youl during the KOR-ASIA Forum 2021 at the Westin Josun Seoul hotel in central Seoul, Thursday. At Center is The Korea Times and Hankook Ilbo Chairman Seung Myung-ho. Korea Times photo by Hong In-kee
Nam Hyun-woo namhw@koreatimes.co.kr


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