SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

Kim Woonghee “Report on the 18th Japan-Korea Asia Future Forum : Japan-Korea Relations -Present Position and Improvement Plan”

On March 23, 2019, we had the 18th Japan-Korea Asia Future Forum at the Institute of Future Manpower (未来人力研究院) in Seoul, Korea.  When we had the 4th Asia Future Conference in August 2018 in Seoul, we planned to re-start planning for this event after considering the past results and problems of the forum. However, Ms. Imanishi made an urgent request and we decided to hold the forum at this time. The background of her urgent request was the unusual development of political relations between Japan and Korea, which has recently broken away from the  established norms.


For this forum,we invited five specialists each from both countries. They exchanged their frank opinions on why relations between the two countries has become worse, how they judge the present situation, and what we should do to overcome the present problems.     


Following the opening address by SGRA Director Junko Imanishi, two specialists from Japan and Korea each gave their key-note speeches. Professor Tadashi Kimiya, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the University of Tokyo spoke first under the title “How to ‘scientifically’ analyze and practice Japan-Korea relations” According to his explanation, towing to the opposition and preference of policies in both countries, the confrontation between them was left alone rather than amplified. In the past, the two countries would cover each other by emphasizing the commonality of their oppositions and preferences for their policies. He said that it would be possible to form minimal consent although it may be difficult to cooperate with each other to establish closer bonds. And, there are already good relations between the citizens of both countries which can make the situation between them controllable. He ended by emphasizing the need to restrain from actions which make it difficult to ease confrontations between the two countries.  


Professor Li Wong Dok, Kookmin University (国民大学), presented on “The relations between Korea and Japan: The present situation and a perspective for improvement.” He started off by explaining the strange phenomena that Korean people are still actively coming and going despite facing the worst political situation with Japan. The Japanese dislike of Korea and anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea are getting worse gradually and he judged that we can see the reverse phenomena in relations between Japan and Korea, namely the relations between offender and victims. He said that the “issue of conscripted workers” is the leading cause in the recent deteriorating political atmosphere in the relations of both countries and presented three possible solutions. The first solution is leaving it as it is. The second is establishing a foundation. The third is judicial settlement (arbitration committee or the International Judicial Court).  He opined that the third scenario is the most possible way for resolution.      


After the coffee break, we had a fruitful free discussion. 黄永植, Ex-Chief Editor, Hankook Ilbo(韓国日報), criticized that freedom of speech in Korea is shrinking and intellectuals are keeping silent. He emphasized that we should not overestimate the importance of the issue of conscripted workers. Ms. Akiko Horiyama, head of the Seoul Branch of the Mainichi Shimbun, urged that now is the time when the Korean Government should answer. Professor Kan Kimura, Kobe University, said that “a collapse of governance”, which we saw in the 1990s in Japan, is seen in Korean governmental policy to Japan and it’s recovery is important now. As for the issue of conscripted workers, it would be desirable to appeal to the International Court of Justice.

Professor Park Yong-Jun, National Defense University, explained the necessity of the practical use of the “Japan axis” in the process of denuclearization and peace.

Jun-ichi Toyoura, the head of the Seoul Branch of the Yomiuri Shinbun, pointed out that regarding the issue of conscripted workers which has been left alone for more than five months, if the Japanese Government would appeal to the International Court of Justice, it would mean a defeat by the Japanese Government against Korea. There is no other choice than establishing a foundation.

Associate Professor, Nobuo Haruna, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, suggested the necessity of relativization of the relations between the two nations which does not stick to the present framework of “Korea is victim and Japan is wrongdoer”. Professor Kimiya commented that denuclearization by North Korea is more important than the “issue of conscripted workers”. Professor Nam Ki-Jong (南基正), Japan Institute, Seoul National University, emphasized the necessity of “Declaration of History” by both counties which acknowledges the role and process specifying the compensation by the Japanese Government. He also said that appealing to the ICJ is just “rhetoric” and both counties should try to solve the issue positively. Associate Professor Kim Sung-be, Chungnam National University, said that the odds are against Korea but we should proceed with the discussion.

Lastly, Li Jing-gyu, the chairman of the board of directors, the Institute of Future Manpower commented about the timely selection of the theme and ended the forum with his closing address. After the closing address at around 17;30, we had a social gathering and the atmosphere of our office changed to a wine-bar.  As expected, our wine cellar became empty and we enjoyed “a frenzied night” again like the past Japan-Korea Asia Future Forums.


Usually, when we say “we exchanged frank opinions” or “we had a heart-to-heart talk”, it means we could not reach a consensus. At this forum, however, as we could have an in-depth debate, we cannot say that we did not achieve this. At international meetings with experts from various fields, the shouldering of national standings or interests is often discussed. At this forum we saw that discussions were divided by individual ideals and not by just by nationalities. We had a feeling that there was a level-headed evaluation of the policies by Moon Jae-in, the President of Korea to “bury the past pro-Japan” or “collapse of governance against Japan”. 


Needless to say, the good relationship between Japan and Korea is essential for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, establishing a peaceful system, and peace and prosperity in North-East Asia. In the relationship between the two countries, if only straightforward “principles” are discussed there will be no appeal. If they discuss based on “sentiment”, which is not straightforward, a good solution cannot be attained.  Recently, “principle” or “sentiment” are not so workable. If they try to manage only by “fear” which exists behind everything, the relationship between both countries would falter. It will be important to balance the three factors of “principle”, “sentiment” and “fear” from now on.


Thank you to all the people who contributed to the success of our 18th Forum, Director Imanishi, Chairman Li and Ms. Ishii who kindly sent us the Japanese sake “Haru-shika” and other necessary goods for the party.   



SGRA News in Japanese (original) on 2nd May, 2019


Photos of the day



(Kim Woonghee /1996 Raccoon, Professor of  Inha University (Korea))



Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Sonja Dale