[Documents menu] Documents menu

Japan-ROK Summit

Mainichi Shimbun, Wednesday 25 September 2000

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung held discussions in a casual atmosphere during their summit meeting in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture over the weekend. The relaxed mood of the summit reflects the recent improvement in relations between the two countries.

Promoting stable ties with South Korea is a major pillar of Japanese diplomacy, and cooperation between Tokyo and Seoul is essential to progress in the normalization talks between Japan and North Korea.

However, in order to build an unshakable cooperative relationship for the 21st century, the Japanese and South Korean governments must adopt a broad perspective that will allow them to settle their remaining differences.

Relations between Tokyo and Seoul took a marked turn for the better after Kim Dae-jung visited Japan in October 1998. Kim agreed to a joint communique that helped to resolve many outstanding and emotional historical issues.

Since then, bilateral relations have been less contentious and cultural exchanges between the Japanese and South Korean people have increased. Today, many South Koreans flock to the Seoul performances of Japanese pop singers, and South Korean films have become box office hits in Japan.

In Atami, Mori announced that future administrations of the national college entrance examination will offer Korean as a foreign-language option. This step should be lauded as yet another manifestation of the friendlier relations between the two countries.

But Mori and Kim did express some differences on the issue of voting rights in local elections for long-term foreign residents of Japan. Kim said he hoped that Japan would pass a bill granting voting rights for foreigners by the end of 2000, but Mori replied that Japan should proceed cautiously on an issue which raises fundamental political questions.

The Japanese people will not be able to avoid coming to terms with this issue as they contemplate the future of their society. But since the government and ruling parties are still divided on the type of bill that should be drafted, and a genuine debate has yet to be conducted, a national consensus will not emerge for some time.

At one time, Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Hiromu Nonaka believed that local voting rights should be extended to all foreign residents, but has recently changed his position and now supports a bill that would limit such rights to people who were forcibly brought to Japan from the Korean Peninsula, and their descendants.

Such a bill, however, would discriminate against foreigners who have arrived in Japan more recently. We hope that South Korea will understand that more time will be required to forge a national consensus.

During his visit to Atami, Kim also proposed the introduction of a shuttle service between Tokyo and Seoul similar to that which serves air travelers between New York and Washington, D.C. His proposal should be actively pursued in tandem with preparations for the 2002 World Cup Soccer Championships, which will be jointly hosted by Japan and South Korea. Both countries need to make the most of this prime opportunity to build a new bilateral relationship.