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[Editorial] Practicality and principle

Seoul needs more flexibility on Tokyo ties

A group of Japanese intellectuals came forward Monday to launch a movement to inherit and enhance the spirit of the 1995 statement announced by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, which apologized for Tokyo’s pre-1945 wartime atrocities. They criticized incumbent Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his distorted historical perceptions and attempts at reinterpreting the pacifist constitution to open the way for exercising the right to collective self-defense.

This conscientious voice raised by academics, writers, journalists and former diplomats shows the soundness of Japan’s civil society, which we hope would help keep its right-wing political leaders from leading their country in the wrong direction. While deserving our praise and support, their initiative may also serve as an occasion for Koreans to ponder what they can and should do to achieve more desirable relations with Japan.

Considering Japan’s harsh colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula in the early 20th century, it is only natural for the Korean public to become sensitive to Japanese politicians’ remarks and moves to deny historical facts and fuel territorial disputes over a group of islets controlled by Seoul. But it may not be regarded as a wise and mature response to let the negative sentiment overshadow the neighborly ties in nearly all aspects. What should not be forgotten is that the relations between South Korea and Japan have grown so multi-faceted and multi-layered that a simple, unilinear approach is irrelevant. Seoul has a big stake in cultivating friendly and cooperative ties with Tokyo to consolidate the security framework based on the alliance with the U.S. and resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.

We sympathize with the argument that South Korea needs to pursue more productive and forward-looking policies toward Japan from a wide and long-term standpoint. This type of active approach from Seoul might draw a more positive than expected response from Tokyo.

In her news conference in Brussels last week, President Park Geun-hye expressed her negative stance on holding summit talks with Abe in the current circumstances, saying their meeting could hardly produce results conducive to improving relations between the two countries.

It is understandable that Park considers it difficult for the time being to find proper momentum for talks with Abe, who should refrain from making further provocative moves. Still, Seoul needs to keep a balance between practicality and principles, and sound more reasonable on some issues with Tokyo.