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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 8)

All News 07:23 October 08, 2020

Toward new relations
Seoul-Tokyo accord should be starting point to mend ties

It is welcome Seoul and Tokyo have agreed to adopt fast-track procedures to allow businesspeople to travel between the two countries. The new measure, effective from today, permits them to enter Korea or Japan without being subject to the mandatory two-week quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The steps are meaningful in that travel between Korea and Japan has virtually been suspended since March when Japan prohibited the entry of foreign nationals as a precaution against the coronavirus pandemic. Seoul took countermeasures, virtually blocking the entry of Japanese nationals. We hope the recent move will pave the way for the two countries to expand exchanges and mend soured relations in the near future.

Though businesspeople will be exempted from the compulsory 14-day quarantine, they will need to submit a package of documents including a guarantee from their company, a negative COVID-19 test undergone in the previous 72 hours and a travel plan. They must have a coronavirus test upon arrival in Japan and shuttle between their lodgings and workplace in a designated car.

Those wishing to stay in Japan for more than 90 days will, however, be quarantined on their return to Korea. But they can be exempted from the quarantine procedure if they get visas for special purposes such as for correspondents.

It is encouraging the two nations agreed to ease quarantine restrictions amid the resurgent coronavirus pandemic. Both Seoul and Tokyo have been suffering setbacks due to the travel restrictions as they mutually rely on each other as major trading partners.

The Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), the mouthpiece of Korean conglomerates, issued a statement Tuesday welcoming the agreement. "We expect the agreement will facilitate the exchanges of businesspeople between the two countries at a time when they are undergoing difficulties from the coronavirus." It expressed hope that the two countries will move forward toward future-oriented relations, prompted by the recent accord.

Last year the number of Koreans who visited Japan for business purposes stood at 310,000, demonstrating the significance of the Japanese market. Japan lifted the travel restriction on Korean businesspeople after it did so for Singaporeans, indicating it has been eager to promote economic cooperation with Korea.

Yet, it is premature to believe the current move will lead to a full-fledged recovery of bilateral relations anytime soon. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has maintained a hardline stance over pending issues between the two countries. For instance, he has repeatedly said he would make no concessions regarding the compensation for surviving South Korean victims of wartime forced labor during the Japanese occupation of Korea.

Despite Suga's firm stance, expectation has been growing that bilateral relations will enter a new phase with the new prime minister who succeeded Shinzo Abe. Abe had been criticized for having plunged Seoul-Tokyo ties to their lowest point with his misuse of bilateral tension for political gain. It is time for the two countries to explore ways to mend relations and resolve thorny history-related issues. We expect the eased travel restrictions will be a starting point for better relations.

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