Asia Minute: Japan: Ceremony — and Potential Diplomacy?

Oct 21, 2019

This is a week of symbolism in Japan — perhaps with some diplomacy in the mix. The country’s new emperor will be at the center of a ceremonial event on Tuesday, and there may be an opening for some diplomatic progress in an entirely different area.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito will undergo his “enthronement ceremony” this week — nearly 6 months after he succeeded his father.

Some 2,000 people are expected to attend this week’s events — including dignitaries from more than 170 countries.

Prince Charles will be there from the UK’s royal family. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will lead the U.S. delegation. The vice president of China will attend, and so will the prime minister of South Korea, Lee Nak-yeon.

Lee, who is fluent in Japanese, is also expected to meet with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Media reports in South Korea say Lee will carry a letter from South Korean President Moon Jae-in — perhaps laying the groundwork for a summit meeting between the two leaders as soon as next month.

Relations between the countries have been frozen after plunging to their lowest level in years. Last year, South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies to compensate Koreans forced into wartime labor. Japan rejected the idea, saying all claims were settled when relations were normalized in 1965.

The dispute has escalated into trade restrictions, and has now affected an intelligence sharing agreement.

The last time the leaders of South Korea and Japan held a face to face summit meeting was more than a year ago — in September 2018.