Photo/Illutration Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and Japanese envoys meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and other negotiators in Chengdou in southwestern China on Dec. 24, 2019. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Two years have passed since the South Korean Supreme Court ordered Japanese corporations to pay compensation for their mistreatment of Korean laborers during World War II.

Relations between Tokyo and Seoul have not only remained strained since then, but they could even get dangerously ugly.

And should the court decide to order the Japanese corporations’ seized assets to be converted into cash--which is certainly a possibility--the Tokyo-Seoul relationship will deteriorate instantly.

The court is expected to reach its decision soon. To spare the bilateral relationship any further damage, the governments of both Japan and South Korea must understand the urgency of the situation and expedite their talks.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has consistently followed a “victims first” approach and placed the heaviest emphasis on compensating former wartime laborers and other victims of Japanese mistreatment.

In contrast, the top priority of the Japanese government has been to protect the defendant corporations from financial damage.

Both Tokyo and Seoul are being tested on their diplomatic prowess to explore a compromise by respecting each other’s position.

The Moon administration needs to stop playing hardball and indicate specific, mutually acceptable proposals as soon as possible.

On this matter, a director-general level meeting was held recently. Although no progress has been reported, it is important to deepen dialogue.

In a bid to jolt Seoul into action, Tokyo last year slapped stricter controls on exports to South Korea. But this proved a bad move that only hampered economic activities for both nations.

South Korea has since implemented its reformed trading system, which means Japan should restore the old export rules from before last year.

With the relationship between the two governments remaining tense with no immediate signs of reconciliation in sight, civilian-level exchanges are also languishing. The last two years have taught us how much governmental errors of judgment can negatively impact the lives of citizens.

Japan and South Korea are neighbors that share many foreign policy issues. On matters such as negotiating with the United States on expenses related to U.S. military bases in Japan and South Korea, or how to deal with the growing animosity between the United States and China, it would be much more in the interests of Tokyo and Seoul to compare notes and work together than to try to go solo in addressing these tough challenges.

But their proximity also causes all sorts of problems.

Public opinion in South Korea is currently keenly attuned to the disposal of treated contaminated water from Fukushima’s crippled nuclear power plant. The Japanese government intends to discharge the water into the sea, and the South Korean public is deeply alarmed.

Constant communication is indispensable if new frictions are to be prevented. Tokyo must make every effort to clear Seoul’s mistrust by providing whatever information is requested.

Preparations are now under way in South Korea for a Japan-China-South Korea summit to be held before the end of this year. But some within the Japanese government are of the opinion that unless some progress is made regarding the issue of wartime laborers, it will be difficult for Japan to participate in the summit.

Aside from the North Korea problem, there is a mountain of outstanding problems in Northeast Asia. Nothing must be allowed to hinder the tripartite summit that will crucial to the discussion of the future of Japan, China and South Korea.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov, 4