By Tsugumasa Uchihata
Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea, a leftist party that takes a strong “pro-North Korea and anti-Japan” stance, was inaugurated as the new ROK president amid escalating military provocations by North Korea. All newspapers voiced alarm to various degrees at Moon’s election as president.
Sankei Shimbun expressed the opinion: “The threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear arms and missiles is becoming increasingly serious, and tensions are rising on the Korean Peninsula. Now is the time when unity among Japan, the U.S., and the ROK is of utmost importance. For this reason, we cannot help being apprehensive about Moon’s stance.”
During the election campaign, Moon indicated his intent to review the deployment of THAAD and resume operations at the Kaesong Industrial Zone, where South Korean companies employ North Korean workers.
Moon’s aim is to resolve the nuclear issue through economic cooperation and dialogue.
Regarding this, the Nikkei wrote in its editorial: “We ask Moon to share the concerns of the international community about the North’s development of nuclear arms and missiles and act in a levelheaded manner.”
Asahi Shimbun said that Moon should “refrain from taking rash actions that might adversely affect the ROK’s cooperation with Japan and the U.S.”
Sankei asserted that “the new administration’s top priority should be to coordinate North Korea policy with the Japanese and U.S. governments as quickly as possible. We hope that seamless cooperation can be maintained on the diplomatic, economic, military, and all other fronts.”
All newspapers strongly criticized Moon’s advocacy of the “renegotiation” of the Japan-ROK agreement on the comfort women issue.
Yomiuri Shimbun asked: “How well does Moon understand that renegotiation of this ‘final and irreversible’ agreement is out of the question?”
Sankei warned, “If the ROK tears up the agreement, it would amount to declaring that it is a country that does not fulfill its commitments.”
Mainichi Shimbun stressed, “We ask the new president to work first for a stable Japan-ROK relationship.” It noted, “Considering the tense East Asian situation, strengthening Japan-ROK cooperation is in the interest of both countries. Yet, the bilateral relationship has been marred by history and territorial issues in recent years.” It added, “The political leaders of both countries have the responsibility to end this vicious cycle of driving each other into a corner and forcing each other to take a harsh stance.”
On the day after his inauguration, Moon had a teleconference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, where he said, “The reality is that the majority of the South Korean people cannot accept the Japan-ROK agreement on an emotional level.”
In reaction to this, Yomiuri wrote in its editorial on May 12: “Is he proposing to tear up the agreement on the comfort women issue?” while Sankei asked in its editorial on May 13: “Is he simply pandering to anti-Japanese public opinion?” Sankei also demanded that Moon “show his good sense by immediately removing the comfort women statue, which demeans Japan.”
Commenting on North Korea’s launch of a “new type” of ballistic missile five days after Moon’s inauguration, newspaper editorials also took up the new leader’s conciliatory policy toward North Korea.
Sankei pointed out in its editorial on May 15: “In the first place, the prerequisite for engaging in dialogue is North Korea’s abandonment of its nuclear arsenal.”
Nikkei wrote on May 16: “Unprincipled advocacy of a conciliatory policy will only encourage North Korea to act recklessly.” (Slightly abridged)