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A Crucial Healing in Asia

October 09, 1998

At last, healing and reconciliation between Tokyo and Seoul have begun. Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi apologized for his nation's brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945. It was the most contrite statement on the issue ever from Japan, whose past expressions of remorse never fully acknowledged its misdeeds. South Korea's President Kim Dae Jung, in Tokyo for a state visit, accepted the apology with grace and urged "a forward-looking partnership."

The apology opens the way for the two countries to work together for mutual benefit. Already Obuchi and Kim have signed an agreement that calls for new cooperation in politics, security, economics and the environment, as well as expanded cultural exchanges. Such exchanges should help improve official relations, though the emotional hurdles that are part of the long and deep Korean hostility toward Japan may take more time to overcome.

During its 35-year occupation of Korea, Japan's rule was harsh and determinedly committed to destroying the country's cultural life. Koreans were forced to take Japanese names and speak Japanese. Not surprisingly, to this day South Korea maintains an official ban on Japanese music, comics, movies and television programs. Kim announced a plan to lift that ban and urged Japan to give its South Korean residents--many of whom are descendants of Koreans taken to Japan as forced laborers--the right to vote in local elections.

The historic rapprochement comes at a time when both countries face major domestic and international challenges. Both are tackling wrenching economic adjustments, and together they face a mercurial and dangerous neighbor in North Korea. But these troubles aside, the start of Japan-South Korea reconciliation will strengthen all of Asia.

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