The bilateral relationship between Japan and South Korea is in a frigid state, and a multilayered diplomatic approach is required to break the impasse.
Japan-Korean Parliamentarians' Association Chairman Fukushiro Nukaga, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party legislator and former finance minister, and other lawmakers from multiple parties recently visited South Korea and met with President Moon Jae-in and members of their counterpart organization.
The focus of those meetings was whether a path toward improving ties between Japan and South Korea can be drawn shortly after the South Korean Supreme Court ordered a Japanese company to compensate former forced laborers during World War II.
Nukaga asked for an "appropriate handling" of the issue based on the 1965 redress agreement between Japan and South Korea. President Moon and South Korean lawmakers only answered that they will take sufficient time to search for a solution.
The two sides failed to reach an agreement, indicating a wide gap between their positions. It is unfortunate that the visit could not produce a way out toward a better relationship.
A joint general meeting of the two parliamentarians' associations adopted a joint statement, but this document was also indicative of the difference between the two countries.
The Japanese side expressed a deep concern for the Supreme Court ruling on the former forced laborers and the dissolution of a South Korean foundation set up to support former "comfort women" with Japanese money based on an earlier agreement between the two governments. The South Korean side, on the other hand, urged Japan to reflect on and apologize for historical issues between the two countries and make efforts to build a future-oriented relationship.
Diplomacy is primarily in the domain of the government. When governments are at logger heads, however, lawmakers are expected to play a substitute diplomatic role of searching for a way out from the deadlock.
The joint statement by the lawmakers stated that they will support their governments to realize a visit to Japan by President Moon early next year. Confirming and sharing the importance of visits by leaders seemed to be one of few achievements of the parliamentarians' exchange.
The responsibility for this outcome should be borne partly by the leaders of the two countries.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cancelled a customary congratulatory message to the joint general meeting of the parliamentarians. By doing so, the premier apparently wanted to show his tough posture, but was it not an act of pouring cold water on those parliamentarians trying to maintain friendly ties between Japan and South Korea?
President Moon, on the other hand, complained to Nukaga and others that the prime minister should refrain from maintaining the tough posture and fanning animosity between the peoples of the two countries. It cannot be denied that the tension between the two leaders cast a pall over the diplomatic efforts of the lawmakers.
Moreover, the South Korean armed forces carried out training on the very day of the joint general meeting around Takeshima Island, called Dokdo in South Korea, which is claimed by Tokyo but controlled by Seoul. Their intention for doing this is beyond our understanding.
Japan and South Korea share many common issues such as the North Korean problem and trade tensions between the United States and China. We must prevent these issues from negatively affecting our bilateral problem.