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[Editorial] Step for future

Joint tribute a step forward to heal colonial past; three-way cooperation with US, Japan restored

By Korea Herald

Published : May 23, 2023 - 05:30

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South Korean and Japanese leaders’ joint tribute to Korean victims of the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bombing is significant considering the two countries must heal the scars of their past to make it far into the future together.

President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida jointly visited a cenotaph honoring the Korean victims at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park on Sunday.

It is the first visit by a South Korean president and the first joint visit by leaders of the two countries.

Around 50,000 Koreans were known to fall victim to the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, after many were brought to Japan to work as forced laborers during its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The South Korean presidential office said that the joint tribute meant that the two leaders were facing up to the painful past of Korea-Japan relations and were trying together to heal it.

The joint tribute was proposed by Kishida during the Korea-Japan summit in Seoul on May 7. Kishida also expressed an apology, though personal, over the issue of Korean laborers, saying at the news conference at that time, "My heart hurts as many people suffered such difficulty and grief under the harsh environment at the time."

After their joint visit to the memorial park, Yoon and Kishida had a separate bilateral summit and agreed to strengthen cooperation in responding to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and China's expansion of influence.

Their agreements are an outcome of efforts by Yoon and Kishida to restore the bilateral relations that worsened under the previous Moon Jae-in administration, which was confrontational to Japan. The Hiroshima summit follows Yoon’s visit to Japan in March and Kishida’s return visit to Seoul early this month. Three summits in two months show that South Korea-Japan relations are being normalized fast.

However, an unhappy history exists between the two countries -- one as assailant and the other as victim. Until it is healed completely, Seoul and Tokyo have a long way to go.

Japan must not forget that historical facts must be accepted invariably as they are and that historical issues must be dealt with honestly and sincerely. Cooperation and the future that ignore the past can touch off conflicts at any time. For a true reconciliation and a better future of both countries, their leaders’ joint tribute to the cenotaph should not be the last step.

The G-7 leaders’ summit ended in Hiroshima, Japan, Sunday. This time, the summit underlined why the world should be free of nuclear weapons. They visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and saw exhibits showing the horrors of atomic bombing.

They urged North Korea to give up on its nuclear weapons and warned they will respond strongly to its provocations. Leaders of South Korea, the United States and Japan had a meeting on the sidelines of the G-7 summit. They discussed how to take their trilateral cooperation to new heights.

They also are said to have agreed to bolster the trilateral real-time sharing of intelligence on North Korea’s missile launches. President Biden reportedly invited Yoon and Kishida to Washington for a follow-up meeting.

Cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan was effectively missing during the Moon administration, but it has been restored in about a year after Yoon took office. This was difficult to imagine under the Moon government, which shunned the tripartite cooperation for fear of offending the Kim Jong-un regime in North Korea.

North Korea’s nuclear threats to South Korea are getting bolder. It is an inevitable and right direction for Seoul, Washington and Tokyo to strengthen their cooperation on the basis of the Korea-US alliance. South Korea must hone its diplomatic strategies in that direction and implement them consistently.