The latest talks between the Japanese and South Korean leaders signified efforts to cooperate in improving relations between their nations, not going deeply into an issue on which they are opposed. The two leaders have ended their first meeting without problems.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks with South Korean President Moon Jae In in Germany, during which they agreed to promote relations between their countries in a future-oriented manner. The two leaders also agreed to resume shuttle diplomacy by making reciprocal visits.
Regarding the Japan-South Korea deal concluded on the comfort women issue in 2015, the prime minister emphasized, “[The accord] is an indispensable foundation for building future-oriented relations.”
Moon responded by saying: “While acknowledging the fact a great majority of South Koreans have not emotionally accepted [the deal], let us wisely resolve [the issue] through a bilateral endeavor.”
Since taking office as president in May, Moon has sealed off his election promise to demand that Japan renegotiate the 2015 deal with South Korea. His attitude falls within the scope of internationally accepted practice, and it should be taken as a matter of course.
To resolve the comfort women issue, Moon said in an interview with a U.S. newspaper in June, “The core to resolving the issue is for Japan to take legal responsibility for its actions and to make an official [government] apology.” Those must be his honest feelings.
Moon seems to lack sincerity, given his intention to decide how to respond to the issue based on the results of investigations by the South Korean Foreign Ministry regarding the circumstances and other matters related to the bilateral accord.
Restraint, wisdom needed
The essential part of the Japan-South Korea deal was that the two nations confirmed the comfort women issue had been settled “finally and irreversibly.” Even if Moon proposes renegotiations, there is no possibility that Japan will accept his proposal. Such a proposal will also inevitably and greatly aggravate the Japan-South Korean relationship.
A lack of concerted action between Japan and South Korea must be avoided at a time when North Korea’s nuclear and missile problem is growing even worse. It is necessary to exercise self-restraint and make wise judgments.
Regrettably, there are no signs of South Korean efforts to remove the statue of a girl symbolizing comfort women in Seoul, as stipulated in the 2015 deal.
At the end of last year, a new similar statue was erected in Busan. An ordinance authorizing the local government to take charge of the statue has been adopted, making it even more difficult for the statue to be removed.
Japan must persistently urge South Korea to remove the statues.
“To ensure difficult problems between Japan and South Korea do not adversely affect their overall relationship, it will be in their mutual interests to appropriately manage [the problems],” Abe said.
Moon also said the comfort women issue “must not hinder the development of Japan-South Korea relations.” He also repeated his idea of separating the issue of historical perception from bilateral economic and cultural exchanges and advancing his country’s practical relations with Japan.
It is important for South Korea to even more “appropriately manage” the comfort women issue.
Moon expressed his intention to visit Japan when a summit meeting is held among Japan, China and South Korea by the end of the year. The prime minister will also likely visit South Korea at the time of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February next year. It is hoped that constructive cooperation will be pursued by the two nations through repeated dialogue between Abe and Moon.