Tuesday, January 13, 2009

South Korean president and Japanese prime minister agree to disagree?

Actually, that title sounds a bit negative and off the mark. South Korea's Lee Myungbak and Japan's Aso Taro have agreed to cooperate on issues such as the reconstruction of Afghanistan and the denuclearization of North Korea, and to not let historical disagreements and "territorial rows" get in the way of that cooperation. 

Ah, where have we heard that before? Hopefully Lee and Aso can get their act together and behave like adults, unlike their respective predecessors, Roh Moohyun and Koizumi Junichiro. The Obuchi-Kim accords would be a good place to start.

In the face of a rising China that does not share their democratic interests, Japan and South Korea need each other, and they both need to cooperate a bit more with the United States to show that they are not just defense freeloaders, lest some piqued American politician(s) rashly decide to pick up all their marbles and go home in a huff, effectively putting an end to the Pax Americana that has probably saved so many lives and so much treasure (including those of America). Toward that end, helping out with the reconstruction of Afghanistan or even stepping up patrols where pirates threaten shipping might be a good idea (well, it is if South Korea does it). 

Anyway, the Japanese-born and conservative Lee may be the best person to repair relations with Tokyo, and it looks like this is an ongoing focus of his administration. Let's see how it pans out. 

Aso, Lee to cooperate, avoid rows
SEOUL (Kyodo) Prime Minister Taro Aso and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak agreed Monday to work closely to address the global financial turmoil, curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions and cooperate on the reconstruction of Afghanistan, leaving aside their historical and territorial rows.

To set the foundation for their shuttle diplomacy, the two leaders also agreed Lee would visit Japan this year "when the timing is right," Aso told a joint press conference after their summit held at the presidential Blue House in Seoul.

"The leaders of Japan and South Korea have never met so frequently and deepened cooperation on such a wide range of areas," Aso said.

On North Korea's nuclear threat, Aso and Lee confirmed their basic goal of Pyongyang dismantling the program and they will seek support from U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office Jan. 20, in ending the standoff.

"We agreed to make mutual efforts with patience toward the denuclearization of North Korea," Lee told the press conference.

In what they touted as a "new era" in bilateral relations, Aso and Lee agreed to jointly contribute to the international community, specifically to help reconstruct war-torn Afghanistan.

On the economic front, Aso and Lee agreed on the need to counter the global financial crunch that has dealt a blow to their economies, reaffirming their agreement made at a trilateral summit in Fukuoka Prefecture along with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in mid-December.

The two leaders also agreed to hold a forum bringing together heads of small and midsize businesses from the two countries.

Lee also said a Japanese delegation of investors and buyers will visit South Korea in April as part of efforts to further strengthen business ties, but did not elaborate on specific purposes or schedules.

The summit, which falls under the shuttle diplomacy framework and follows Lee's visit to Tokyo last April, marks the first visit by a Japanese leader to South Korea since the two countries agreed last February to resume reciprocal visits.

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