Building Relationships of Trust between Japan and Korea
SEOUL, January 15, 2013 — New Japanese Ambassador to Korea, His Excellency Koro Bessho, spoke about the future of bilateral relations between Japan and Korea at Asia Society Korea Center’s first luncheon lecture of the year.
Ambassador Koro Bessho introduced his ideas on the importance of the relationship between Japan and Korea and what role the respective governments can play to build trust. The Ambassador began his speech referring to Korea’s President-elect Park Geun-hye’s biography which stressed the importance of understanding issues from the other side’s perspective. In this respect, the Ambassador spoke about his desire to learn more about Korea’s traditions and culture, such as pansori and calligraphy. The Ambassador in particular pointed to the heavy influence of Korean TV dramas on the Japanese audience, especially the impact they have had on changing the male perception of women in Japan’s male dominant society.
The Ambassador praised the bilateral economic relations between Japan and Korea as direct investment from Japan to Korea doubled last year in spite of various political issues. According to the Ambassador, Japan was reminded of its friendly neighbors around the world after the 2011 earthquake and realized that their economies were heavily reliant on each other. For example, when the earthquake shut down Japanese supplier factories, the assembly plants in the U.S. and other nations were also closed. The Ambassador stated that this was the reason behind the increase in Japan’s direct foreign investment and also Japan’s effort to seek partnerships with other suppliers and factories worldwide. The Ambassador also pointed out that there are numerous, ongoing joint projects between Japan and Korea, especially on security and environmental issues that affect the future economic partnerships between the two countries.
The Ambassador outlined two important tasks for the respective governments regarding Japan’s recovery from the earthquake and the development of the joint projects: one, providing accurate information about each country, and two, building a legal framework for cooperation between Japanese and Korean firms in third party countries. The number of Korean visitors to Japan dropped due to ongoing worries about radioactive pollution from the earthquake. Meanwhile, fewer Japanese people traveled to Korea because they feared that violent attacks on Japanese people, such as the recent incidents in China, could also happen in Korea. The Ambassador claimed that these anxieties were unfounded and that correcting these misperceptions would be one of his primary goals. Furthermore, the Ambassador suggested that the two governments should strongly support joint business conferences and ensure that an FTA is signed in the near future.
Moving the discussion forward into the East Asia region, the Ambassador emphasized Japan’s decision to contribute to the world peace exclusively through economic means. The Ambassador stressed that Japan was a strong advocate of disarmament and arms trade control, and that the country does not intend to become a military giant but is working to concentrate on establishing friendly relations with its neighbors. When asked to comment on the new Japanese Prime Minister’s call for an increase in the defense budget, the Ambassador responded that Japan had consistently reduced its military expenditure in the last 10 years and although the budget may increase this year, it would still be lower than 1 percent of the GDP, which is indeed a remarkably low figure when compared to the military spending of Korea or the U.S. The Ambassador then added that Japan and Korea are both members of the G20 and the OECD, and that they share fundamental economic and political values. That’s why the two countries can take the lead in promoting the region’s economic integration and multilateral cooperation.
The Ambassador concluded that Japan and Korea should not allow political issues to override their bilateral relations and must try hard to maintain a robust and stable relationship. Responding to questions on the historical and territorial issues between the two countries, the Ambassador emphasized mutual understanding based on ‘facts’, ending with the optimistic view that the new leaders of the two countries will find a way to resolve emotional difficulties without risking future relations.