Japan, South Korea inch closer

Forty years must be considered a mere blip in the long march of human history. Yet, the past 40 years, looked at in terms of East Asia and efforts toward reconciliation between South Korea and Japan, must be considered a remarkable period of growth.

Asia, particularly East and North Asia, is a genuine economic success story in today's world economy. From Japan across to the Korean Peninsula and down to Taiwan and Hong Kong, factories are humming, new products are being created, and once-tradition-bound life styles are undergoing rapid and far-reaching change. In that sense, last week's state visit of South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan to Japan underscores the larger sense of peace and economic interrelationship that now marks the region. The effort to find common agreement can only work to the advantage of East Asia, as well as the world community in general.

One would be remiss, of course, in suggesting that President Chun's visit to Japan - the first by a South Korean head of state - solves all differences between the two nations. Many problems remain. Thousands of Koreans living in Japan, for example, continue to face severe discrimination, a situation that calls out for more vigorous response from Tokyo. Many Koreans in Japan have been effectively barred from Japanese citizenship. Also, Japan continues to post a sizable trade surplus with South Korea.

Solutions will obviously take some time. Still, one would be equally remiss in overlooking the importance of the discussions that occurred between Japanese and South Korean officials. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, for example, praised South Korean defense efforts. And Emperor Hirohito made remarks that were tantamount to an apology for past Japanese misconduct during its period of colonial rule in the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. At one point, he said: ''I would like to state here that the government and people of Japan feel deep regret for this error....''

Such a recognition of past wrong cannot help furthering a healing climate for the two nations.

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