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Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011
A business-like summit
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Oct. 19 met with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak in Seoul at the Blue House. By choosing South Korea as the first country to visit as prime minister for a bilateral diplomatic meeting, Mr. Noda signaled to Seoul that he gives importance to the ties between Japan and South Korea.
Both leaders agreed to accelerate working-level consultations so that talks for forging a bilateral economic partnership agreement will be resumed at an early date. But Mr. Lee did not make any further commitment.
The talks started in 2003 but were suspended in 2004. South Korea fears that with an EPA with Japan, South Korea's trade deficit with Japan will increase because it greatly relies on Japanese parts for such products as cars and electronic machines. Japan on its part was lazy in pushing the talks. Japan should make serious efforts to resume them.
The EPA issue was overshadowed by a sharp depreciation of the South Korean won due to the European financial crisis. To prepare for turbulence in currency markets, the two leaders agreed to increase the size of a currency swap scheme from the current $13 billion to $70 billion. The agreement points to Japan's readiness to help keep the South Korean economy on an even keel.
In accordance with the decision in August 2010 by then Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Japan's annexation of Korea, Mr. Noda handed Mr. Lee five volumes of historically important Korean archives that Japan's Government-General of Korea, which ruled the peninsula after the annexation, had seized. Mr. Noda asked for improved access to historically important Japanese archives in the possession of South Korea.
The two leaders refrained from taking up the delicate issues of compensation for Korean women who served as sex slaves of the Imperial Japanese armed forces and of the territorial dispute over the Takeshima Islets in the Sea of Japan. Instead, they concentrated on expanding bilateral cooperation.
But Mr. Lee said that the basis for the bilateral ties lies in heading toward the future while not forgetting the past. Japan should not forget that memories of Japan's colonial rule of Korea are still vivid in the minds of South Koreans. Both countries should refrain from acting acrimoniously and continue their efforts to build closer ties.