Japan and South Korea have moved to resume political dialogue after a lengthy standoff.
Kim Jin-pyo, chairman of the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians' Union, and Park Jie-won, director of South Korea's National Intelligence Service, visited Japan in succession and held talks with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and other officials. Takeo Kawamura, secretary-general of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians' Union, and other officials from Japan similarly visited South Korea last month.
Relations between the two countries remain at their worst level since diplomatic ties were normalized in 1965. We want to positively appraise reconfirmation of the two sides' political will to achieve a breakthrough in the current situation.
The international situation surrounding Japan and South Korea faces major changes with Democrat Joe Biden having secured victory in the recent presidential election in the United States.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held three rounds of talks with U.S. President Donald Trump. While Kim failed to get U.S. sanctions against his country lifted, he was able to utilize President Trump's tendency to prefer top-level negotiations. In the end, however, there was no progress on the North Korean nuclear issue.
Under the Biden administration, North Korea will likely come under pressure to review its strategies. We cannot dismiss the possibility of Pyongyang going back to its line of repeating military provocations in an attempt to draw Washington's attention and gain bargaining leverage.
Biden has placed weight on the United States' alliances with its allies, and cooperation between Japan, the U.S. and South Korea is likely to become more important than before in policies toward North Korea.
At the same time, the U.S.-China conflict looks likely to continue under the Biden administration. Japan and South Korea are in the same boat on this issue in that they will be under pressure to make difficult decisions in the midst of friction between the two powers. Amid such circumstances, there is no room to leave worsening relations between Tokyo and Seoul unaddressed.
The greatest source of concern between Japan and South Korea is the issue of wartime forced labor, and Seoul needs to show a forward-looking stance on this issue. If Japanese companies' assets seized in South Korea are sold off, then intensification of conflict between the two countries will be inevitable.
However, unilaterally driving South Korea into a corner is not the way to bring about a solution.
In South Korea, the level of national earnings per person has risen to a level on par with that of Japan. Officials should be aware that sudden changes in the power balance are a remote cause of the souring of relations. There is a need to seek a breakthrough while allowing the other country to save face.
Considering the severity of the current situation, it will likely not be possible to achieve a turnaround for the better overnight. But stability of the bilateral relationship benefits both countries' national interests. While ascertaining the changing situation, they should adopt a response from a long-term perspective.