SEOUL — South Korean and Japanese lawmaker groups have been getting together for decades to promote bilateral ties and iron out rocky political issues, but they have been out of the limelight since the change of government in Tokyo last year.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada have both visited South Korea since the Democratic Party of Japan came to power in September, but the Japan-South Korean parliamentary league has remained practically in limbo.
The Japan-Korea Parliamentarians’ Union and its South Korean counterpart, the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union, had been scheduled to hold a joint general meeting in Tokyo last year before it was called off.
The Japanese side has even shut down its Web site.
The paralysis in the Japanese group stems from the fall of the Liberal Democratic Party and the emergence of the DPJ at the helm of government.
With the LDP remaining in power almost continuously for more than five decades, the union has been led by former LDP prime ministers since it was established in 1975.
Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who was appointed to the chairmanship of the union while the LDP was in power, continues to occupy the post, frustrating the DPJ’s attempts to put its own man in the top job.
In line with other parliamentary groups set up to promote bilateral ties with other countries, the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians’ Union is a cross-party group with members drawn from both the ruling and opposition camps.
In parallel with government-to-government contacts, the Japan group and its South Korean counterpart have contributed toward an improvement in bilateral relations.
Apart from regular exchanges of visits by the top leaders of the unions, lawmakers from the two parliamentary groups have helped lower political tensions that from time to time have gripped the two countries, mostly as a legacy of acrimonious historical ties.
With the Japanese union paralyzed by the political bickering between the LDP and the DPJ, the South Korean parliamentarians have urged their Japanese counterparts to put their house in order, arguing the two countries need a parliamentary channel to promote ties.
Lee Sang Deuk, older brother of President Lee Myung Bak and head of the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union, met Foreign Minister Okada in Seoul on Thursday and called for the early resumption of activities between the two unions.
After it came to power, the DPJ pressed its claim for leadership of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians’ Union, saying the union, though possessing a cross-party membership, should be led by a legislator from the party in power.
According to South Korean sources, the names of two prominent DPJ politicians — Takahiro Yokomichi, the speaker of the Lower House, and Satsuki Eda, president of the Upper House — are being passed around as potential candidates for the chairmanship of the Japanese side.
But Mori, who served as prime minister from April 2000 to April 2001 and has strong connections with South Korean politicians, has given little indication he is ready to step aside as chairman.
South Korean legislator Kang Chang Il said the Japanese side must resolve its internal problems and resume bilateral exchanges.
“Our two parliamentary groups serve as political pipelines between our two countries,” Kang said.