Published : 2013-12-29 20:13
Updated : 2013-12-29 20:13
The relations between Korea and Japan are heading toward their lowest ebb as Seoul hardens its stance following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to a controversial war shrine last week.
Fresh momentum for bilateral security cooperation following Beijing’s unilateral demarcation of an air defense zone in November dissipated after Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war criminals, in Tokyo on Thursday.
The prospect of improvement in the bilateral ties next year remains bleak as Tokyo is expected to step up its territorial claim to South Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo and continue to whitewash its colonial wrongdoings.
Amid deteriorating public sentiment, Seoul has reportedly canceled planned talks with Tokyo on ways to bolster bilateral exchanges between policy divisions of the two countries’ defense ministries.
Japanese Vice Defense Minister Masanori Nishi is said to have proposed signing an agreement with Seoul over increasing bilateral cooperation between the policy divisions during his talks with his South Korean counterpart Baek Seung-joo in November.
Since the security hawk Abe returned to the premiership in December 2012, he and his Cabinet members have made remarks that highlighted their lack of atonement for the country’s wartime atrocities, including sexual enslavement of Asian women.
Aware of public outrage here, President Park Geun-hye has refused to accept Japan’s proposal for a summit, even though she has held talks with the leaders of the United States, China and other neighboring countries.
After China unilaterally announced its air defense identification zone in November, which overlaps with those of South Korea and Japan, fresh momentum was created to improve bilateral relations. But hopes for practical cooperation were dashed after Abe’s visit to the shrine.
A series of events for next year are also expected to further worsen Korea-Japan relations.
In February, the Japanese prefecture of Shimane is to observe its Takeshima Day to assert the country’s claim to Dokdo. The Abe government sent senior officials to attend a ceremony to mark the day, prompting a strong protest from Seoul. It is expected to send its officials to the event again.
Tokyo is to issue its diplomatic and defense policy documents in April and July, respectively, to reiterate its sovereignty claim to Dokdo. This year, Tokyo even posted a video clip to advertise its claim to the South Korea-controlled islets, further enraging Koreans.
Some observers expressed concerns that Abe could pay another visit to the Yasukuni Shrine during a springtime worship period in April.
Seoul is unlikely to find new momentum for improving ties with Japan ahead of major elections slated for June, analysts said. Viewed as a public referendum on the incumbent government’s performance, the elections will decide local provincial and municipal chiefs.
Next year, Korea’s top court is also expected to finalize its rulings on compensation for wartime forced labor. Compensation issues could escalate into a diplomatic row as Tokyo says all compensation issues concerning Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of South Korea were settled under a bilateral normalization pact in 1965.