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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on May 8)

All News 07:12 May 08, 2020

Building mutual trust

South Korea and Japan put aside their differences to fly a 5-year-old Korean girl who had fallen ill with acute leukemia in India back to Korea for treatment. Japan boarded the girl and her family on a chartered plane the Tokyo government flew to New Delhi to fly Japanese nationals home from India, which is in lockdown because of the virus. The family finally arrived in Incheon after first stopping in Haneda Airport in Tokyo.

The episode underscores the wonders the two countries can achieve if they work together. The Korean government also allowed Japanese nationals onboard the plane it sent to evacuate nationals from Madagascar, the Philippines and Kenya. From India and Sudan, Koreans were invited onboard Japanese planes. Such humanitarian aid can provide the momentum to thaw the chill between the two governments.

The coronavirus outbreak ironically could bring the two together. Their cooperation can go beyond aiding one another in evacuations. Korea has been able to return to normal life by containing the virus to a manageable level. Its quarantine capabilities backed by IT and bio technology have gained global recognition. Despite flaws in the early stages, Japan boasts supremacy in basic science. If the two countries join forces, they can make a breakthrough in beating COVID-19.

Yet the two have been waging a war of nerves. Amid an easing in the spread of COVID-19 in Korea, the government mulled sending masks and diagnostic test kit reserves to Japan. The offer reportedly had been suspected by Japanese officials of having some kind of conditions stemming from thorny issues of wartime forced labor compensation. Seoul immediately refuted and decided against aid that is not invited. The two neighbors cannot share extra masks and test kits due to long-standing distrust.

Even at war, it is in human nature to treat a wounded soldier although he is on the enemy side. The two countries that have cooperated in so many areas since the normalization of ties in 1965 must not turn their backs on one another. Regardless of the differences over history and territorial issues, the two states must cooperate in non-political fields. Seoul fundamentally has a two-track approach in bilateral relations as to separate past issues with current ones.

The two can do many things together. They first should share intelligence over North Korea to solve the nuclear problem. Risks can be lessened if companies from the two countries jointly launch development ventures in Southeast Asia and Africa. The Trump administration has threatened economic sanctions on China to punish the country for the creation and outbreak of the virus that has caused the most damage in the United States. Its move could put Korea in a bind, given its high reliance on the Chinese economy. The damage on the two economies can be reduced if the two act in joint response. To join forces on the external front, it is important to build mutual trust.

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