Ichiro Ozawa, President
Cooperation between Japan, the Republic of Korea and China to promote peace in East Asia
The first trilateral leadership summit between Japan, China and the Republic of Korea (ROK) to be held in three and a half years took place on November 1, and it was followed, on November 2, by the first meeting between the leaders of Japan and the ROK since the governments of both nations changed hands. 21st century East Asia contains the seeds for extreme instability in terms of politics, economics and security. In such a situation, close cooperation between Japan and the ROK should be a given. The fact that a Japan-ROK leadership summit has not taken place until this moment in spite of such circumstances is a political aberration that goes against the interests of the citizens of both our nations.
China is the most pressing issue that the world faces in the East Asia region. There is no doubt that China will have a huge impact on the neighbouring nations of Japan and the ROK as well as on the entire international community. Because of this, I think that we must carefully follow political and economic developments in China, and Japan and the ROK should cooperate to ensure that Chinese society makes a soft landing. If we can succeed in encouraging China to move in the direction of democracy, it should be possible for it to exist peacefully with the rest of East Asia and the international community.
In order to achieve this goal, Japan and the ROK, which share the basic common values of democracy and free market economics, should serve as the heart of the East Asian region, deepening various exchanges and strengthening bilateral cooperation. If such a robust Japan-ROK relationship can be created, and a democratized China can participate to create a fully cooperative trilateral partnership, I am convinced that our three nations will be able to play an even greater role in human history than they have done hereto.
Two thousand years of common history enjoyed by Japan and the Republic of Korea are a precious asset shared by neighbours
When we think about the relationship between Japan and the ROK, we should consider how it can be strengthened by looking at the two thousand year history of friendly cooperation that our two nations have enjoyed. This year marks half a century since the normalization of diplomatic relations. At the time of normalization, the human exchanges between the two nations amounted to 10 000 people per year, but now this figure has increased dramatically to approximately 5 million people annually. But, we should never forget that the background to such a bilateral relationship is the accumulation of more than two thousand years of exchanges of people and culture.
During the Yamato period, when the Imperial court ruled Japan, it is said that no interpreting was required for communication between Japan and the Korean peninsula. In other words, even the language used was almost identical. Some people were sent from the Yamato court to become officials in the Korean kingdoms of Silla and Paekche and there were also examples of people from the Korean peninsula playing an important role at the Yamato court. The bilateral relationship could be described as blending into one harmonious whole. Moving forward to the Edo period, despite the Tokugawa Shogunate’s closed country policy, Korean envoys visited Japan on 12 occasions, the only official diplomatic contact during that time.
As we can see, the ROK and Japan have traditionally engaged in ethnic, cultural, political and economic exchanges in their position as each other’s closest neighbours. However, the current bilateral relationship is in such an abnormal state that it has not been possible, up until now, to hold a leadership summit. In order to rectify this situation, both nations need to discard their arrogance and their distorted view of each other, and work together with humility and good faith to develop a friendly cooperative relationship.
Improving Japan-ROK relations from a broader perspective
France was invaded by the Nazis, but now enjoys extremely amicable relations with Germany. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom and France, who had previously engaged in a hegemonic struggle, dug the Channel tunnel between their two nations and are now connected by the high-speed Eurostar train service. If 21st century Japan can emulate the bilateral relationships between France and Germany and the United Kingdom and France, and consider the Japan-ROK relationship from a broader perspective, we should definitely be able to move the relationship in a positive direction.
In order to achieve this, it is important for Japan to create a true relationship of trust by adopting a stance in which we look calmly at the historical facts, apologise where apologies need to be made and make corrections where corrections are needed. In the ROK meanwhile, people are still trapped by the facts of past history, and anti-Japanese education and rhetoric needs to come to a halt. It is natural for both countries, considering their close relationship, to overcome the difficult issues we face and work more closely together, and this I believe is something desired by the majority of citizens in both Japan and the ROK.
In 1990, Korean President Roh Tae-Woo addressed the Diet while on a visit to Japan, urging, “Let’s work together to create an era where in the next century young Japanese can depart from Tokyo and travel through an undersea tunnel to the Republic of Korea, where they can embark a voyage of friendship with their Korean counterparts, a voyage that takes them to Beijing, Moscow, Paris and London, spanning continents and linking the world together.” I was very much impressed by this statement. I am convinced that now is the time for Japan and the ROK, as each other’s closest neighbours ethnically, culturally, and linguistically, to cooperate closely together in order to realise this dream.