By Publisher Lee Kyung-sik, VC Choe Nam-suk, Editor Kevin Lee
"The Korea-Japan relations should not be permitted to dwell on the unfortunate past and, in fact, Japan has made an apology over the unfortunate past between the two countries on many different occasions.” So, has indicated President Yoon Suk-yeol of the Republic of Korea in his statement on the relations between Korea and Japan—as reported by major Korean and international media reported including Yonhap TV on March 21, 2023.
This is a reflection of views shared by many people in Korea, especially those who are forward-looking and who support increased cooperation between Korea and her allies and friends such as the United States, Japan and all the countries of the Free World and those others outside the controlled-economy block of countries.
Yoon made an impressive statement reminiscing Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom. Yoon said, “If you wish to make the present and past compete with each other, you are bound to lose the future!”
Yoon emphasized the importance of improved relations, cooperation and friendship between Korea and Japan by saying, “We do not forget the past, but we should never let it tie your hands and feet!”
Moon confessed, “I have been earnestly seeking ways to improve and normalize relations between Korea and Japan, but, frankly, I felt as if I were trapped in a maze.”
According to the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade, Korea and Japan are the closest neighbors geographically and culturally, precious partners who share universal values such as freedom, human rights, and the rule of law, and are important partners not only in Northeast Asia but also at the global level.
There is a long history of exchanges between the two countries, and within that long time, the two countries faced various situations and experienced ups and downs in relations.
Although the relationship between the two countries is now very low since the signing of the Korea-Japan Basic Treaty in 1965, many people in Korea feel sure that the two countries will and can overcome it and move toward a future-oriented relationship that coexists.
In the not-so-long past, Korea and Japan were great strength to each other. Tens of thousands of Japanese youths gathered at Yoyogi Stadium in joy of Korea’s advance to the semifinals despite the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, which achieved the legend of the semifinals.
In the 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake, which caused numerous casualties, Koreans hung placards with Ganbare Nippon (Cheer up Japan!)" all over the streets of Seoul to encourage the Japanese people and console their pain through fund-raising activities. This remains a vivid memory in the minds many people in Korea even now.
Korea tries to make the following efforts to bring Korea-Japan relations back to that time, the best time.
First, Korea will try to quickly expand government-level communication efforts with a strong will to improve Korea-Japan relations.
Through constructive dialogue efforts at various levels, including the restoration of shuttle diplomacy between the leaders of the two countries, Korea will restore mutual trust early and lead the way for the prosperity of Northeast Asia and the world as cooperative partners seeking common interests.
Second, Korea will also make efforts to revitalize human exchanges and regional exchanges between the two peoples. Continuous expansion and quality improvement of exchanges promoted in all walks of life in Korea and Japan, including politics, business, academia, culture, and art, is the foundation and basic physical strength of Korea-Japan relations.
Korea will do her best to restore exchanges between the two countries, which have been further dampened by COVID-19.
Third, Korea will lay the foundation for strengthening the global partnership between Korea and Japan. From North Korea's nuclear and missile threats to strategic competition between the United States and China, global supply chain reorganization, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Ukraine crisis, Korea and Japan face simultaneous and complex challenges together.
In addition, the two countries have various common tasks such as low birth rate and aging population, balanced regional development, and climate change. As practical cooperation between the two countries, increased bilateral cooperation is more urgently required than ever, and try to realize the expansion of win-win cooperation between the two countries.
President Yoon, again, takes very strong interest in the promotion of relations, cooperation and friendship between Korea and Japan, perhaps even stronger than that on the part of the late former President Park Chung-hee who is largely considered a pioneer in improving relations between Korea and Japan.
Korea-Japan relations must now go beyond the past. Japan has already expressed regret and apology to Korea on dozens of occasions for its past affairs.
President Yoon emphasized, "Korea-Japan relations should be a 'win-win relationship' rather than a zero-sum game in which one side gains more and the other loses."
President Yoon declared, “If Korea preemptively removes obstacles, Japan will definitely respond," which, in effect, asks Japan to start preemptive procedures to restore the whitelist.
President Yoon expressed his strong will to improve Korea-Japan relations, saying, "I am confident that the Korean government is now moving in the right direction." And, of course, the ‘right direction’ meant improvement of relations, cooperation and friendship between Korea and Japan.
President Yoon began his remarks at the State Council with the words of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who said, "If you compete with the present and the past, you will definitely will miss the future."
Yoon emphasized the need to improve Korea-Japan relations, saying, "We should face the past, but we should not be held back."
Yoon recalled, "I have been considering ways to normalize relations between Korea and Japan since taking office, but I felt trapped in a maze."
He said: "However, we couldn't just sit back and watch amid complex crises such as the U.S.-China strategic competition, the global supply chain crisis, and the escalation of the North Korean nuclear threat. Korea-Japan relations should go beyond the past."
Yoon said: "I could also have chosen a comfortable path for immediate political gains and become a President who neglected the worst-ever Korea-Japan relationship. I thought that if I tried to stimulate hostile nationalism and anti-Japanese sentiment and use it in domestic politics, I would be abandoning my responsibilities as the President of the Republic of Korea."
Yoon emphasized: "Korea-Japan relations should be a 'win-win relationship' rather than a zero-sum game in which one side gains more and the other loses
"If South Korea preemptively removes obstacles, Japan will definitely respond.
"I am confident that the government is now moving in the right direction."