Japan and South Korea have experienced many historical and territorial disputes since the end of World War II. However, today's situation has one new element.
In the past, the rival nations could repair their relationship quickly after a dispute. In contrast, today's situation has had seen no improvement for almost three years since former President Lee Myung-bak's visited the islets known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan.
Why can we not improve relations quickly like we did in the past?
The first reason is the decline of mutual importance.
The Japanese share in South Korean trade has dropped from 40 percent to 7 percent in the past 40 years, and with the changing security situation in Northeast Asia, it is difficult to find a way to develop strategic cooperation. As a result, it has become difficult for people to find the required interest to improve ties.
The second element is increasing nationalism in both countries.
According to a public survey, more than 75 percent of people in Japan and South Korea support their respective governments regarding the comfort women issue. This percentage has increased more than 10 percent in Japan in the past five years. The situation makes it harder for the political elite to negotiate.
Thirdly, respective judgments by the courts in the two countries do not help.
The Japanese Supreme Court has made several judgments saying all of the past issues between the two countries "have been settled completely and finally" by the treaty in 1965.
In contrast, South Korean courts pronounced that victims of colonial rule have a right to compensation from the Japanese.
As the two judicial authorities are divided, negotiations by two governments are severely limited.
What can we do in this situation? There are three possible answers.
The first is to reconfirm the importance of a solid relationship.
As mentioned above, mutual exchanges by the two countries have been reduced in the rapidly changing international environment. But this does not mean that the importance of a strong mutual bond has been lost totally.
For example, in terrible natural disasters such as the 2011 Japanese earthquake, help from neighboring countries can play a critical role.
Japan still has the third biggest economy in the world, and South Korea is a member of the G20. It is nonsense to say that the relationship between two influential players has no importance to their people.
Secondly, the importance of these ties has to be explained in plain words that people can understand easily, because public opinion has the biggest influence in a democracy.
Thirdly, we have to narrow the gap in the basic legal framework of the two nations. Toward that end, we should welcome the voice of the international community.
The 1965 treaty prescribes that the two countries should make an arbitral commission if interpretation of the treaty is divided, but both governments apparently regard making such an organ too risky politically.
A possible solution is to take another track, a half private and half official organ to discuss the treaty with influential scholars of international law or retired judges of international courts. By making such an organ, lines of compromise may be possible.
In addition, the organ should be open to the public. By just doing that, the Japanese and Korean public could have a chance of changing their nationalistic stance against each other.
In a globalized and democratic society, we always have to consider how people think and how we should behave. The past when the domestic elite manipulated diplomatic relations has gone forever.
It is time to make a new system to build a strong relationship fit for the present age.
The writer is a professor at the Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies, Kobe University