Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2013.10.30

Trust Korean Style?

JBPress on October 25, 2013

"Trustpolitik," a flagship concept of South Korea's President Park Geun-hye for her intra-Korean policy, is still baffling to many in Tokyo. Despite its elegant naming, it is neither about trust nor politics as applied to foreign relations. It is, at best, an arbitrary concept of self-contradiction which could eventually undermine the U.S. commitments in East Asia in the years to come.

Trust is an assured reliance on someone and politics means activities that relate to influencing others' actions and policies. If so, trust and politics are contradictory to each other and will not get along. This concept, if and when applied to Japan arbitrarily, would only separate the two U.S. allies from each other and make the U.S. presence in the region less sustainable.

Last April, Ms. Park's administration first planned to send her foreign minister to Tokyo as well as to have an annual trilateral finance minister meeting between Japan, China and South Korea. However, she suddenly cancelled both, reportedly in response to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "offensive rhetoric" and his cabinet members' visit to the Yasukuni shrine.

This month, the South Korean Foreign Ministry again criticized the Japanese politicians who visited the shrine, requesting that they build trust with neighboring countries. The ministry also claimed that the consistent policy of the South Korean government is that Japanese politicians should not visit the Yasukuni shrine at all.

Again, the Japanese silent majority was puzzled, because they saw that Mr. Abe's "offensive rhetoric" was either misquoted or misleadingly reported. In fact, Prime Minister Abe had reiterated his position on the history and comfort women issues as early as May, in order to avoid further misunderstanding. The following is what Mr. Abe stated in his parliamentary testimony.

On History

- Regarding the Murayama [war apology] Statement, in the past, Japan caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those in Asian nations. This fully reflects the feelings of the Abe cabinet, and the entire position outlined by previous (Japanese) administrations is continued by the Abe Cabinet.

- The Murayama statement was issued 50 years after World War II, and a statement was issued by the Koizumi cabinet ten years later. These statements were issued by the respective Cabinets of the time, and the position outlined by previous administrations is continued by the Abe Cabinet.

- Based on such deep remorse, we have established a free and democratic Japan, which respects the rule of law and contributes to a peaceful international society.

- I have never said that Japan has not committed aggression, and have never denied the fact of its colonial rule.

On Comfort Women

- Regarding the Kono [comfort women apology] Statement, I am deeply pained to think of the comfort women who experienced immeasurable pain and suffering, a feeling I share equally with my predecessors.

- My position is that this issue should not be politicized or be turned into a diplomatic issue.

- Throughout history, women's dignity and basic human rights have often been infringed upon during the many wars of the past. The Government of Japan places paramount importance and is committed to doing its utmost to ensure that the 21st century is free from further violations of women's dignity and basic human rights.

These statements have been repeated by consecutive Japanese Prime Ministers since the 1990s and are being continued by Mr. Abe, as well. What else does the South Korean government need to see? Will the Koreans endlessly demand additional apologies or compensation for anything deemed to fall outside the 1965 Treaty of Basic Relations? If so, when will it end?

In 1995, the Asia Women's Fund was established in Japan to provide atonement money and medical/welfare support to each victim, with a letter from the Prime Minister of Japan expressing apologies and remorse directly to each former comfort woman. The only nation in the world who rejected this initiative was the Koreans. Their rationale was that, "It's not enough."

In the world outside their peninsula, trust is mutual and not unilateral. If trust is considered lost when one side will not accept the other's one-sided claim, it is a matter of subordination and not of trust. President Park refuses to talk without giving reasons. So how could you expect others to trust you? Trust must be based on direct discussions between parties, despite differences in opinion.

On October 3, 2013 the Japan-U.S. 2+2 Joint Statement was issued. It says that Japan will continue coordinating closely with the United States to expand its role within the framework of the U.S.-Japan Alliance (i.e. re-examining the legal basis for its security including the matter of exercising its right of collective self-defense) and that the United States welcomes these efforts.

Five days later in Washington D.C., a senior South Korean correspondent wrote a column stating that:

- Japan's presence in Washington D.C. is much larger than South Korea's. The recent U.S.-Japan honeymoon is extraordinary and the U.S. has no reason to dislike a Japan which would not say no to them. In the U.S. rumblings of discontent have started to question why South Korea is so reluctant to improve relations with Japan. South Korea sees the past of Japan, while the U.S. is interested in Japan's future role.

History should be separated from current bilateral or multilateral strategic issues. While South Korea only focuses on the past, the U.S., Japan and other like-minded countries look to the future. South Koreans must realize that if they remain stuck in the past, there will be no trustpolitik. Trust is about looking forward, and will not grow from focusing on the past alone.