Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Diplomatic Momentum from US-ROK FTA to Aid Japan-ROK FTA?

I'm guessing these meetings must have been planned in advance, but either way, in light of the recent US-ROK FTA, there's one thing we know for sure: the men and women of the South Korean Foreign Ministry haven't been sleeping much lately!

The New China News Agency (Xinhua), Seoul bureau, reports that South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso concluded a two-day meeting yesterday. The outcome was generally positive and both sides agreed to work to improve bilateral relations and push for progress with respect to the 6PT. However, *in addition to the usual diplomatic back and forth*, there were 3 statements I found interesting (Thank Tan'gun!).

First, Aso suggested the resumption of talks on an FTA between the two nations (6 rounds have been held since December 2003, but they've been frozen since November 2004). Also important in light of recent events, Aso reiterated that the Japanese government stands by the Kono statement. Both sides have also agreed to hold "high-level security talks" this coming May.

This is the kind of stuff Foreign Ministers do...they Foreign Ministrate, so it shouldn't really be shocking.

A few thoughts, though:

1) I think the fact that bilateral ties continue to make progress even in spite of PM Abe's recent statements bodes well and speaks to some level of health and stability in the South Korea-Japan relationship.

2) This is the way I'd like to see the US have an impact in the region: encourage progress by positive examples. You don't even need to make statements...you lead by example. (I'm not making the assumption that the US-ROK FTA inspired talk of a ROK-Japan FTA, I'm just saying I'm happy to see us advocate free trade by doing it, not just preaching it to others.)

3) I can guess, but don't know for a fact, that the FMs of both countries are working their magic under Executive guidance.

That they continue to find areas in which they can work together seems then, to me, to speak to the larger agendas of their respective governments...and thus to represent a measure of optimism with respect to the general importance and hope for bilateral relations in both Seoul & Tokyo.

Anyway, after reading my own post, it seems I've somehow caught a case of optimism. See what happens when you expose an analyst to too much sunshine!!!?

1 comment:

Erin Robinson said...

I'm sorry about your recent case of optimism. I was really surprised when I saw that the FTA went through, like, staring at my monitor surprised, because you and Prof. Larsen had both been pessimistic in class.

On Abe, it is good to see that his recent craziness has not had much of an actual impact. Has anyone looked into exact fallouts of statements like Abe's? I know they cause a lot of fervor and angry talk, but how often do they damage talks or progress on bilateral issues? Are there enough bilateral issues going on at all times to judge?

All last year, I had classes with a Japanese embassy official, who was always very optimistic about Japanese-Korean relations, despite the public outrage at things like Yasakuni. I wonder how much of that was official talk, and how much was a real indication of the state of relations?