Presidency and Prime Ministership of Conservative Leaders as the threat to South Korea-Japan Relations
By: DUONG Dyraden
South Korea and Japan have a long and complex history of cultural exchange, war, and political rivalry; most remarkably, the late 19th century and the early 20th century were considered as an unfortunate period between the two countries.
It was until the late 20th century that South Korea’s rapid industrialisation since the 1970s, her democratisation in the 1980s, and Japan’s economic stagnation since the 1990s have brought about qualitative changes in this bilateral relationship.
Democracy of South Korea and Japan, their market economics, their high-tech industrial structures, and their national security policies placing their alliances with the United States at the core have made relations between these twin states in East Asia become tighter and tighter in this early 21st century; however, the relations have sunk to a low point not seen since the Cold War era due to the presidency and prime ministership of the two conservative leaders, President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe respectively.
Why have relations between Seoul and Tokyo dramatically turned worse under the regimes of President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe?
In December 2012, Shinzo Abe, a member from conservative Liberal Democratic Party, were formally re-elected as Japan’s prime minister, ending a three-year break from decades of near-constant rule by his party. In his first term starting from 2006, Prime Minister Abe refrained himself from conducting any provocative action towards his neighbours; unfortunately, his first prime ministership was marked by economic stagnation and corruption scandals that led him to step down after staying in power for precisely one year and one day. Therefore, in this second term, he has come back with a determination to stamp his mark on history and to push through his long-cherished right-wing agenda.
Since the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, was elected in February 2013, Japan’s Shinzo Abe and this daughter of former Korean President Park Chung-hee (1960-1979) have not held any formal meeting because of the lack of trust between the two conservative leaders. After nearly a year in office, most Japanese believe that Park faces a fundamental problem because she is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, who led Korea's industrialization by utilizing his contacts and compromising with Japan. Since Park Chung-hee's compromised approach to Japan is severely criticized in Korea, it is not easy for Park Geun-hye to exert leadership and bring the two countries closer to reconciliation.
Director of Japan Studies at the private Sejong Institute claimed that it was hard for the two conservative leaders to mix well. He further analysed, “Park emphasizes principles, while Abe is ideology oriented; ideology cannot be changeable because it is based on belief, and principles can only...