Does the South Korean administration under President Moon Jae In seriously want an improvement in Japan-South Korea relations? Such a question cannot be discarded.
The Moon administration has announced a five-year state policy plan.
With regard to relations with Japan, the administration declared that it would separate historical issues from security and economic cooperation to “develop future-oriented relations.” The plan did not mention Moon’s presidential campaign pledge of “renegotiating” the 2015 Japan-South Korea agreement on the comfort women issue. This idea can be considered realistic.
What is problematic, however, is that the plan explicitly stated South Korea will establish a day to commemorate the comfort women issue in 2018 based on a proposal by the South Korean Gender Equality and Family Ministry.
The plan also sets forth the establishment of a comfort women “research institute” in 2019 and a “history museum” in 2020.
If these projects go ahead, it is inevitable that offense will be felt by Japan and bilateral relations will deteriorate. It also clearly runs counter to the idea of “future-oriented relations.”
On the comfort women issue, the state policy plan says South Korea will aim for “solutions that victims and citizens can agree on.” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha has said renegotiation of the 2015 agreement is “one option.”
However, the agreement affirmed that the resolution was “final and irreversible.” It is impossible to explore new solutions or hold renegotiations.
About 70 percent of former comfort women received cash payments from the South Korean foundation established based on the agreement.
Shouldn’t the South Korean government make an effort to report this fact to the general public?
Don’t rush N. Korea talks
The removal of the girl statues symbolizing comfort women set up in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and Consulate General in Busan is also an issue. The Moon administration is required to make specific “efforts” such as holding discussions with the civil associations that erected the statues.
It is also worrying that the Moon administration is hastily leaning toward holding dialogues with North Korea.
The administration has approached the North Korean government to propose that its leader Kim Jong Un engage in South-North dialogues, including military talks. Seoul also proposed the cessation of hostilities around the military demarcation line as an agenda.
The leaders of Japan, the United States and South Korea agreed just early this month to apply “maximum pressure” to resolve the North Korea nuclear and missile crisis. A proposal for dialogues at this time could be interpreted by North Korea as a false signal.
North Korea has totally ignored the proposal and accused the South of “being manipulated by the United States and pursuing a policy of strengthening pressure on the North.” North Korea appears to be attempting to sway the Moon administration and to force a wedge between South Korea and the United States.
The U.N. Security Council is discussing responses, including additional sanctions, to North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile early this month.
South Korea should make cooperation with Japan and the United States a top priority. It is important for South Korea to adopt cooperative initiatives in order to persuade China and Russia, which have taken a cautious stance over strengthening sanctions against North Korea, to adopt an effective resolution at the UNSC.