Hopes for thaw
Seoul, Tokyo should make efforts to restore relations
Japan has decided to return a South Korean-made statue symbolizing "comfort women" to an art exhibition in Nagoya after its abrupt withdrawal drew a strong backlash from artists around the world.
The decision, although late, is a step in the right direction. It proves that an earlier decision to withdraw the statue from the Aichi Triennale 2019 was politically motivated amid worsening ties with South Korea. But politics is politics and art is art. It was wrong for the Japanese government to threaten freedom of expression due to a political issue.
The statue was on display as part of the "After Freedom of Expression?" section at the art festival. But it was removed just days after the exhibition opened Aug. 1. There had been strong protests against the statue from ultra-right Japanese groups that deny the history of the forceful mobilization of women for sexual slavery for soldiers during wartime.
Fortunately, a group of Japanese intellectuals and artists launched a campaign urging the organizers to retract their decision, and the global art community showed strong support for them. The organizers finally agreed to put it back on display, along with other artworks banned for largely political reasons. Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura announced Monday that they will remain on display until the art show ends Oct. 14.
We can't welcome the decision more because relations between South Korea and Japan are at their worst in decades. There are still few signs of a breakthrough in their ties. We hope the Japanese decision on the South Korean statue will lead to the resumption of meaningful dialogue between the neighboring countries.
On Wednesday, Japan's NHK reported that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may hold talks with South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon on the occasion of the latter's possible visit to Tokyo to participate in the Oct. 22 coronation ceremony for Japan's new Emperor Naruhito.
Japan has invited guests from 200 countries and international organizations to the enthronement ceremony. Last week, South Korean Ambassador to Japan Nam Gwan-pyo mentioned the possibility of President Moon Jae-in's visit to Tokyo to attend the ceremony, but this appears to be an implausible idea considering present relations.
It is said that Prime Minister Lee is on good terms with many Japanese politicians and senior officials. If he visits Tokyo this month, he will be President Moon's de facto special envoy for discussions on how to mend fences with Japan.
If things go smoothly afterwards, South Korea can consider reversing its decision to terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), a military intelligence-sharing pact scheduled to expire Nov. 23. South Korea decided not to renew it after Japan began a trade war with South Korea amid disputes over historical issues.
Chances are slim that there will be an immediate breakthrough in ties considering strong positions of Moon and Abe. But South Korea and Japan share common interests in many areas and face common security threats. They need each other.
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