A Look at Recent Editorials

Back to Index

50th Anniversary of Normalization of Japan-South Korea Relations

post date : 2015.07.02

Vol. 6  July 3, 2015


Asahi: “Japan-S. Korea relations going nowhere amid immature rivalry”

Sankei: “Now is the time to make forward-looking intentions concrete”

Nikkei: “Nurture budding cooperation and develop strong Japan-South Korea relations”

Mainichi: “New framework needed to move Japan-South Korea ties forward”

Yomiuri: “Japan, S. Korea should proceed toward future by surmounting history problems”


June 22 marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, which normalized diplomatic relations between the two nations. The day before the anniversary, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se visited Japan and held talks with his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida. It was the first time in four years that a South Korean foreign minister had visited Japan.


During the foreign ministerial talks, Kishida and Yun agreed to cooperate in having Japan’s Meiji-era industrial revolution sites and South Korea’s historic sites from the ancient kingdom of Baekje registered as World Cultural Heritage sites, after South Korea dropped its opposition to Japan’s bid.


Furthermore, Japan and South Korea held ceremonies on June 22 to commemorate the 50th anniversary in Tokyo and Seoul, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, respectively, attended to make congratulatory speeches.


In recent years, the bilateral relationship has chilled due to friction over historical and territorial issues, and politically has come to a grinding halt with Abe and Park not holding a summit meeting even once. Many say bilateral relations have dipped to their lowest level since the two nations normalized diplomatic ties.


At this milestone in bilateral relations, however, there has emerged a sign of softening in South Korea’s policy toward Japan, observers say. Yet, it remains to be seen if the Japanese and South Korean governments will be able to use it to attain a genuine improvement in their relations.


The topic was discussed in the editorials of the five national dailies: The Asahi Shimbun on June 19, The Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei) on June 21, The Yomiuri Shimbun and The Mainichi Shimbun on June 22 and The Sankei Shimbun on June 23.


All of them underlined the necessity of rebuilding the bilateral relationship, with The Nikkei saying: “It is necessary [for the two countries] to break the deadlock in their tense political relations and build a forward-looking, long-term relationship of cooperation.” But the five newspapers presented differing views on how to improve relations.


■ Historical issues

Since they established diplomatic relations in 1965, Japan and South Korea rapidly developed close, interdependent ties. It was South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s visit to the Takeshima islets in August 2012 and his demand for an apology from the Emperor that soured the bilateral relationship. After her inauguration in February 2013, Park set the settlement of the “comfort women” issue as a condition of holding a summit talk with Abe, deteriorating bilateral relations further.


“What has stood out in recent years is that the issue of ‘comfort women’ has gained such influence that it can bring Japan-South Korea dialogue to a standstill entirely,” The Mainichi said. “…with emotions running as high as they are over the issue, it will be difficult to reach a quick resolution that both countries will be satisfied with. What the two countries need under such circumstances is the levelheadedness to place a priority on common interests, and to deal with the ‘comfort women’ issue head-on in the process.”


The Nikkei also pointed out how extensive bilateral discord has become over historical issues. “Even if the comfort women issue were to be settled, [historical issues would not be resolved entirely.] South Korea has seen a series of lawsuits demanding [Japanese firms] pay compensation for South Koreans forced into labor during the war,” the economic daily said. “There exists a deep-rooted antagonism over historical issues between Japan and South Korea—the former colonizer and its colony.”


The Yomiuri, on the other hand, criticized South Korea over its handling of historical issues. “Fundamentally, the compensation problem involving the comfort women has been legally resolved under the 1965 agreement,” the paper said. “The Asian Women’s Fund that was established by the Japanese government, however, made payments of ‘atonement money’ to 61 former South Korean comfort women, accompanied by letters of apology by the then Japanese prime minister.


“As long as Park ignores these facts and does not change her stance of pressing the Abe administration for unilateral concessions, it will be difficult for the Japanese side to compromise,” The Yomiuri said


■ Path to the future

The Yomiuri and The Sankei are urging South Korea to rectify its stance over historical issues, while The Nikkei and The Asahi say there are also problems with Japan’s stance, and it is indispensable for both sides to make concessions. The Mainichi says that the reason for these issues lies in structural changes to the environment surrounding the two countries, and effort by both countries is necessary.


The Sankei urged Park to “make a decision to withdraw the conditions she has set, including one demanding the settlement of the comfort women issue before holding a [bilateral] summit meeting.” The newspaper also warned the Japanese government not to “weaken its basic position in its haste to improve bilateral ties.”


The Yomiuri said that Park’s stance of going along with anti-Japanese public opinion in South Korea “intensifies anti-South Korean sentiment in Japan, leading to a vicious circle,” and gave the opinion that “...even if there are differences in views on territorial issues or historic perception between Japan and South Korea, the primary task of diplomacy is to minimize the negative impact of such differences on the overall relationship between the two countries.”


The Nikkei mentioned that South Korea’s “...uncompromising, one could even say stubborn, anti-Japan stance undeniably caused relations to cool off even further,” but also pointed out that “On the other hand, it is true that the Japanese position, which could seem to be historically revisionist, antagonized South Korea.” The paper also said that if ties are to be improved, it is necessary for the two nations to “broaden the areas in which the two nations can cooperate, as well as their scopes, and to decrease, as a result, the relative importance of ‘history,’” encouraging economic cooperation.


Speaking about the Sankei Shimbun correspondent who was indicted for defamation of Park, The Asahi said “South Korea’s judicial and criminal justice authorities have made a series of questionable decisions,” but also, with the example of the debate over the constitutional interpretation of Japan’s national security legislation, stated that “But it is also hard to claim that the rule of law is observed perfectly in Japan.” The paper also said “Japan and South Korea should take the opportunity offered by the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic relationship to start an honest face-to-face conversation as responsible and independent nations.


“As long as they are caught up in narrow-minded nationalism and an absurd sense of rivalry focused on winning or losing, the two neighbors will be unable to end the vicious cycle that has crippled the politics and diplomacy between them,” The Asahi said.


The Mainichi stated that “In the last 50 years, Japan and South Korea, despite various bumps in the road, have, through cooperation, built an important relationship. But the old framework in which that collaboration took place is falling into dysfunction.” The paper also underscored, “The two countries must now build a new framework based on an acknowledgment and understanding of each other’s differences.”


*English translations of The Yomiuri, The Asahi and The Mainichi are from The Japan News, The Asia & Japan Watch and The Mainichi, respectively.  Those for The Nikkei and The Sankei are provisional. The content of this page was made by the Foreign Press Center Japan and does not reflect the opinion of the Japanese Government or any other organization.

About Us
Covering Japan
News Resources
Activity Reports
Reaching the Press