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[Editorial] Practical cooperation

Municipalities can help improve neighborly ties

The western Japanese island of Tsushima, about 50 km off the southeastern tip of the Korean Peninsula, hosts more than 150,000 Korean tourists annually, more than five times its population.

It is natural for Korean companies to seek to invest in resort and other accommodation facilities on the island. A plot of land purchased by a Korean firm in June happens to be located near a structure used by a Japan Maritime Self-Defense unit. In the eyes of Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, the purpose of the land acquisition seems dubious. On a visit to the island last weekend, he raised the need to keep watch over how the plot would be used.

His remarks, which apparently referred to possible surveillance activities, dismayed many Koreans, who saw them as oversensitive and unreasonable. Korean authorities most likely had no idea of the private land purchase let alone the need to scout the JMSD facility.

Days later, a more provocative remark that angered the Korean public came from Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who described Ahn Jung-geun, a revered Korean independence fighter, as a “convicted criminal.” Ahn assassinated Hirobumi Ito, a Japanese figure who had masterminded Tokyo’s colonization of the peninsula, in a northern Chinese city in 1909. The Japanese official’s comment, which came in response to a plan by Seoul and Beijing to set up a monument honoring Ahn, was an outright insult to all Koreans.

The recent string of controversial remarks by Japan’s cabinet members showed again the counterproductive and bad manners with which the long-estranged ties between the two countries have been handled at government level.

What draws our attention as more positive and useful for moving forward are growing exchanges and cooperation between local administrations and small businesses of the two sides.

Heads of eight Korean and Japanese provinces facing each other across the strait, in the middle of which Tsushima Island lies, gathered together early this week in the Japanese city of Fukuoka to discuss ways to promote mutual exchanges and cooperation. A five-point joint statement adopted called for, among other things, concerted efforts toward nurturing global talents who will be able to serve the interests of both countries.

Last month, delegates representing small and medium-sized enterprises in Korea and Japan exchanged visits, pledging to help enhance friendship and co-prosperity of their nations and Asia as a whole through active and creative collaboration.

These moves partly reflect the multi-pronged and multi-layered neighborly ties that cannot be properly handled or entirely overshadowed by a politically biased approach. It is hoped that sound perception and substantial cooperation at the more practical levels will help keep relations with so much potential from being wrecked.
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