Moon must act on public awareness of need for better ties with Japan

It would be good if the people of both Japan and South Korea are becoming increasingly aware of the need to improve bilateral relations to deal with the rise of China and the threat posed by North Korea.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in should take such public opinion seriously and try to break the deadlock in relations with Japan, which has been caused by the South Korean side persistently dredging up historical issues.

In a joint survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun and The Hankook Ilbo of South Korea, 81% of Japanese and 89% of South Korean respondents said that the current relationship between Japan and South Korea is “bad.” In addition, 69% of Japanese and 80% of South Korean respondents answered that the other country “cannot be trusted.”

Since the South Korean Supreme Court finalized a ruling in 2018 ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation to South Korean former requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula, the percentage of respondents in both countries replying that the bilateral relations are “bad” has surpassed 80%.

It is a serious problem that the deterioration of intergovernmental relations has affected public sentiment and prolonged mutual distrust.

On the other hand, there was also notable agreement between the two sides on the regional security environment and shared diplomatic concerns.

Respondents who consider China’s growing military pressure on its neighbors as a “threat” to their respective country accounted for 88% on the Japanese side, and 72% among South Koreans. The majority — 59% in Japan and 64% in South Korea — said that their country should work with the United States to put pressure on China.

Regarding the United States’ insistance that Japan and South Korea need to improve relations for the sake of dealing with China and North Korea, 68% of respondents in both countries said that relations “should be improved.”

This can be said to indicate a cool-headed view that Japan and South Korea should work together on common issues of regional stability and strengthen trilateral cooperation along with the United States.

To resolve the confrontation between Japan and South Korea, the two countries must return to the 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problem concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation, in which it was stipulated that the issue of claims was resolved “completely and finally.” It is obvious that the Moon administration did not respect the agreement and heightened the momentum of anti-Japanese sentiment that led to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

However, on June 7, the Seoul Central District Court rejected the plaintiffs’ claim in another lawsuit filed by former requisitioned workers, expressing a view that was different from the ruling by the Supreme Court.

The ruling by the Seoul Central District Court said that the exercising of the plaintiffs’ right to seek compensation from the Japanese side was restricted by the 1965 Japan-South Korea agreement. This was a reasonable judgment in line with international law, but does not mean that the Supreme Court’s ruling has lost its effect.

The decisions of South Korean courts have wavered over historical issues. It is important for Moon, who formulates foreign policy, to deal with pending issues between Japan and South Korea responsibly without being swayed by the judiciary.

Recently, Moon has made remarks that show his eagerness to improve bilateral relations. The president needs to put his words into action.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 9, 2021.