Moon’s speech on Japan-ROK ties must be backed up with action

Improving Japan-South Korea relations serves the national interests of both countries and also contributes to regional stability. It is noteworthy that South Korean President Moon Jae-in has shown such a pragmatic awareness.

It is hoped that concrete actions will lead to the restoration of trust between the two countries.

Moon delivered a speech at a ceremony to mark the March 1 Independence Movement against Japanese colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. While stressing that South Korea will continue to tackle historical issues involving Japan, the president stated that Seoul will not stop efforts for cooperation between the two countries and forward-looking development.

In his speech, Moon said that the South Korean government “is always ready to sit down and have talks” with the Japanese government, expressing his willingness to improve relations with Japan.

Regarding the history of Japan and South Korea over the past several decades, it is noteworthy that Moon pointed out in the speech that South Korea’s growth has helped Japan’s advancement, while Japan’s growth has assisted South Korea’s advancement.

It can be said that South Korea has turned its attention to the mutually beneficial relationship that has existed since the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea in 1965, a stance that has not been taken by the Moon administration in the past.

Bilateral relations between the two countries have stalled over South Korean court rulings ordering Japan to pay compensation to former requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula and former so-called comfort women.

Japan-South Korea relations have been shaken by the judicial rulings, which apparently reject agreements that accompanied the normalization of diplomatic relations and the 2015 deal on comfort women.

Moon did not mention such issues or conflicts and refrained from criticizing Japan in his speech. Did the president recognize that if no progress is made in improving the relations with Japan, it will have a negative impact on South Korean diplomacy overall, including U.S.-South Korea relations?

If Moon wants to break the deadlock, he should present concrete proposals with sincerity to solve the issues of former requisitioned workers and former comfort women.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has indicated its intention to deal with the threat posed by North Korea through cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea. There is no doubt that it will urge an improvement of Japan-South Korea relations. Japan will also need to promote dialogue with South Korea if Seoul presents a solution worthy of consideration.

Moon said that he hoped the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled for July, “may serve as an opportunity for dialogue” between Japan and South Korea, South Korea and North Korea, Japan and North Korea, and the United States and North Korea, and stressed that he is poised to cooperate for the success of the Games.

Moon has one year and two months left in his term. As his campaign pledge to improve inter-Korean relations has produced few results, he probably hopes “Olympic diplomacy” will be the breakthrough.

Dialogue with the Olympics as a stage is welcome if it contributes to stability on the Korean Peninsula. However, it should not be utilized to create the mere appearance of an atmosphere of reconciliation.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 2, 2021.