A U.S. lawmaker on Monday called on Japan to face up to the past to become a “stronger country” and thaw its relations with neighbors frayed by territorial and historical tensions.
Robert Menendez, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stressed the significance of trilateral cooperation between Seoul, Washington and Japan in deterring North Korean saber-rattling and safeguarding regional stability.
“I do believe that historical issues need to be met and healed. I think nations are liberated when they recognize their past,” he said during a lecture at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, citing America’s slavery as an example.
“We did not become a greater country until we ended the shackles of slavery, recognized the abuses in the past and moved forward. We became a much stronger country, I believe, as a result.”
Robert Menendez, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivers a speech at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in downtown Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap News)
Emboldened by a recent election victory, top officials of the Shinzo Abe administration have relayed worships at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine and remarks denying the country’s imperial atrocities, prompting criticism from around the globe.
Tokyo’s relations with South Korea and China have been further strained by sovereignty rows over the Dokdo islets in the East Sea and the Senkaku or Diayou islands in the East China Sea, respectively.
While adding to pressure on the nationalist government, the second-term lawmaker also raised the need for its neighbors such as South Korea and Japan to step up efforts to shake off historical burdens and move forward.
“Meeting the challenges of history is important in freeing oneself to become the full potential that’s necessary to create relationships,” Menendez said.
“By the same token, there has to be willingness to receive efforts to achieve that, overcoming the historical challenges. If such an environment can be created, it will be good for the people.”
The Democratic Senator for New Jersey arrived here Saturday to discuss U.S. bilateral relations and multilateral partnerships, trade, North Korea and other regional issues.
Seoul was the third leg of his first Northeast Asian tour as chief of the panel, which took him to Tokyo and Taipei and will end in Beijing. Menendez assumed the job early this year, succeeding John Kerry who became secretary of state.
During the three-day stay here, he met with President Park Geun-hye, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, national security office chief Kim Jang-soo and other top officials.
In the speech, Menendez also urged Pyongyang to give up nuclear ambitions and change course, saying its provocations will “only strengthen” South Korea-U.S. ties.
Park’s “trustpolitik” initiative, coupled with last week’s agreement between the two Koreas to reopen their factory zone in Gaeseong, has presented the communist regime with a “clear path forward” in a “straightforward, determined manner,” he said.
“In fact, North Korean provocations, if they continue, will only result in a stronger U.S.-ROK alliance and in stronger international sanctions on North Korea, and international condemnation,” Menendez added.
“But whether leaders in Pyongyang have the courage that President Park has demonstrated to pursue peace, and to allow the people of North Korea to build a better life for themselves and their families, remains to be seen.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)