Relations with Japan
Korea is geographically close, yet emotionally distant from Japan. Given the historical relationship between the two countries, the paradoxical nature of their relation is readily understandable. Since normalizing relations at the urging of the United States in 1965, Seoul and Tokyo have held annual foreign ministerial conferences. The usual issues discussed have been trade, the status of the Korean minority population in Japan, the content of textbooks dealing with the relationship, Tokyo's equidistant policy between P'yongyang and Seoul, and the occasional problems.
At the first of three ministerial conferences held in 1987 (in Seoul, New York, and Geneva, respectively), the two countries' foreign ministers discussed pending issues, including Seoul's trade deficit with Tokyo. The Japanese minister of foreign affairs pledged to assist Seoul in its role as host of the Olympics. Seoul and Tokyo signed a bilateral agreement on sea rescue and emergency cooperation.
The 1988 foreign ministerial conference was held in Tokyo. There the two countries agreed to expand exchanges of youths, students, and teachers, and to establish the twenty-first century committee between the two nations, as well as a joint security consultative committee for the Seoul Olympics.
Roh's Nordpolitik somewhat relaxed Seoul's vehement opposition to Tokyo's approach to P'yongyang. The Japan Socialist Party, in particular, has become active in improving relations not only between P'yongyang and Tokyo, but also between itself and Seoul. As the Japan Socialist Party abandoned its posture favoring P'yongyang, Seoul has welcomed the new equidistant policy, inviting a former secretary general of the Japan Socialist Party, Ishibashi Masashi, to Seoul in October 1988. Ishibashi's visit was unusually productive, not only in improving his party's image in Seoul, but also in his reported willingness to mediate between Seoul and P'yongyang. While Tokyo appeared willing to assist Seoul in improving relations not only with P'yongyang but also with Beijing, it did not seem to welcome the much-improved Seoul-Moscow relationship. Further, Seoul-Tokyo relations became somewhat strained when in 1989 Tokyo began steps to improve relations with P'yongyang.
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