Fukuda’s Exit Complicates Korea-Japan Ties
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's sudden resignation Monday is expected to have implications on the relations between Seoul and Tokyo, which have reached their lowest ebb over history and Dokdo in the East Sea, local experts said Tuesday.
Some are worried that relations could turn sourer amid reports that Taro Aso, a former foreign minister known as being more conservative than Fukuda, will take over the post, while others are taking a wait-and-see approach as Japan's political situation unfolds.
Professor Ha Jong-moon of Hanshin University in Gyeonggi Province described Aso's possible inauguration as ``the worst-case scenario'' for ties between South Korea and Japan.
``Aso is well known for speaking about his opinions on historical and other political issues in a straightforward manner, so I believe bilateral relations would become worse,'' Ha said.
Aso, who currently serves as secretary general of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has made controversial remarks in the past.
In January 2006, for example, he called for the emperor to visit the Yasukuni shrine which houses not only the remains of Japan's war dead, but also criminals responsible for atrocities during World War II.
He later backtracked on the comment but said he hoped such a visit would be possible in the future.
South Korea, China and other Asian victims of Japan's colonization view the shrine as a symbol of Japan's unrepentant militarism.
Jin Chang-soo, a senior researcher of the state-funded Sejong Institute, however, expected the opposite.
He said Aso, who has a strong support base within the LDP, would likely manage state and foreign affairs in a more stable manner than his predecessors if elected as leader. That support means he would not feel the need to push for provocative policies to gain political and public kudos, he said.
The main reason for Fukuda's resignation was his dwindling public support. He had been struggling to cope with a divided parliament where the opposition parties controlled the upper house and could block his agenda.
``Personal political inclination cannot be a matter of concern,'' Jin said. ``Aso's strong political support base could rather benefit future bilateral relations.''
Aso's friendly relations with the United States could also cement ties with the Lee Myung-bak administration that has put a high priority on the alliance with Washington, foreign ministry officials said.
Cheong Wa Dae refrained from commenting on Fukuda's surprise announcement to step down.
Officials at the presidential office, however, said Japan's political situation would likely affect the scheduled tripartite talks between the leaders of South Korea, Japan and China later this month.
``We expect the Japanese government to determine its stance on the summit soon. We will also determine our government's position later,'' presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said.
Tokyo earlier proposed the summit be held in Japan's western port city of Kobe Sept. 21. But Seoul has delayed its decision on whether to participate in the meeting amid lingering public fury over Japan's repeated claims to Dokdo, a cluster of South Korean-controlled islets.
In July, the Japanese government released an education guideline for middle schools referring to Dokdo as its own territory, dashing hopes of the Lee administration, which wanted to develop relations with Japan in a ``future-oriented'' manner instead of being caught up in disputes.
On Monday, Tokyo also revealed its defense white paper for this year in which Dokdo is described as its territory. It is the fourth time in a row that Japan's annual defense white paper has referred to Dokdo as its own.
The paper noted that issues of Japanese territory ― the Kuril Islands and Takeshima, the Japanese name for Dokdo ― remain unresolved, according to diplomatic sources.
Located roughly halfway between South Korea and Japan in the East Sea, the rocky islets have been at the center of a decade-old row between the two neighboring countries.
The islets were annexed by Japan along with the Korean Peninsula in 1910, but Tokyo claims its territorial rights to the islets were declared five years before the start of Japanese colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.
Seoul has stationed a 50-strong police contingent on Dokdo since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War to reinforce its ownership.