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2009年1月14日 (水)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 13(IHT/Asahi: January 14,2009)

EDITORIAL: Japan-S. Korea summit


Public approval ratings are abysmal for both Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak. But their latest summit in Seoul gave us reason to anticipate new, positive developments in bilateral relations.


For Aso, it was his first state visit to South Korea since he assumed office last September.


During the talks Monday, the two leaders confirmed the importance of having their countries and the United States remain on the same page concerning North Korea's nuclear problem. They also agreed to work together to cope with the global financial crisis.


The summit produced no surprises, but it was significant that the Japanese and South Korean leaders reconfirmed their positions less than 10 days before the U.S. administration of Barack Obama takes off on Jan. 20.


Morever, Aso and Lee made it quite clear that the two countries intend to work together in tackling various international challenges. We welcome this new direction, as past summits tended to focus only on bilateral issues.


One matter that was discussed at length this time was how Japan and South Korea can cooperate on Afghan reconstruction.


Japanese and South Korean citizens are among the global contingents of aid workers dispatched to Afghanistan, but the situation there is growing progressively worse. As Afghanistan is one of Obama's top foreign policy issues, his administration will most likely call for greater contributions from Tokyo and Seoul.



There is no doubt that this prospect was what prompted Aso and Lee to discuss the Afghan issue.


Nothing specific has been decided on Japan-South Korea cooperation in Afghanistan. But since any form of military contribution will be severely restricted and raise serious problems, we believe Tokyo and Seoul should swiftly work out details of joint civilian assistance plans.


Aside from Afghanistan, the two countries ought to work together on many other international issues, such as helping developing countries grow and stabilize themselves. Various environmental challenges, including climate change, need to be addressed, too.


In that sense, we applaud Aso and Lee for agreeing to start "joint research on a new era in Japan-South Korea relations."


The project will involve experts from both countries and explore bilateral relations to enable the two nations to jointly contribute to the international community. We hope the team will tap all sorts of possibilities and achieve results.


The Japan-South Korea relationship itself can be strengthened by the partners' efforts to compile a solid track record of cooperation on the international stage, as well as to seek regional stability through summits involving China and other talks.


Aso's latest visit to South Korea signified the revival of "summit shuttle diplomacy," which aims to build mutual trust through casual visits and frank exchanges by leaders of the two nations.


We must never return to that dismal period in our relationship, when our prime minister's obsessive determination to keep visiting Yasukuni Shrine and excessive nationalism in South Korea resulted in the suspension of mutual visits by the leaders.


Next year will be exactly a century since Japan annexed and colonized the Korean Peninsula. At every summit, the leaders of Japan and South Korea stress the "importance of facing the past squarely and looking toward the future." But this does not mean that all the lingering ill feelings about history and territorial issues have evaporated.


We hope the latest summit can become the cue for moving in the right direction, even if by a baby step.



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