As the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties between Japan and South Korea is nearing, a Japanese lawmaker visiting Seoul stressed how important it is that the two maintain friendly relations. The two countries are currently experiencing strained relations due to historical issues and a territorial dispute over the Takeshima/Dokdo Islands.
Yoshitada Kounoike, a lawmaker from the Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is in town to take part in a next-generation leader exchange program together with three other lawmakers. This is run by the South Korea-Japan cooperation committee and involves politicians, government officials and business leaders from both countries who will work together to strengthen bilateral cooperation, especially in the economic sector. “Close neighbors are more important than distant relatives,” Kounoike quoted a Japanese proverb as he met with South Korean lawmakers. He encouraged the local lawmakers to have a more positive attitude as they attempt to mend the damaged relations between the two.
However, the day before, his use of a South Korean proverb sparked a media backlash against Kounoike. He used the proverb, “Nice responses follow nice initiation” in a meeting with Kang Chang-hee, the chairman of the National Assembly. Some took his statement to mean that he is blaming South Korea for the ongoing fued. His newest statement is seen by some as a conciliatory platitude for his mistake the day before. Kounoike is a close confidant of another currently controversial politician, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, whose statements involving Nazis and constitutional reforms earned criticism as well from Japan’s neighbours and the international community. Although he has already apologized for his latest gaffe, there has been calls for him to resign from his post.