Will Prime Minister Shinzo Abe be able to pursue constructive relations between Japan and South Korea, while at the same time clearly conveying Japan’s position regarding the issues of comfort women and North Korea?
Abe said he intends to attend the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which is to be held in South Korea on Feb. 9, and to hold talks with South Korean President Moon Jae In.
During his talks with Moon, Abe intends to convey Japan’s rejection of the Moon administration’s new policy on the bilateral agreement regarding the comfort women issue, and to reconfirm the two governments’ policy of maximizing pressure on North Korea.
It was only recently that the Moon administration announced its new policy of unilaterally reviewing the bilateral accord, an act that would go against international common sense.
The Japan-South Korean agreement made clear that the comfort women issue “has been settled finally and irreversibly.” The Moon administration, however, has concluded that the accord “cannot be a true solution to resolve the issue,” and announced that Seoul expects a “voluntary, and sincere apology” from Japan and other things.
As the announcement was apparently intended to undermine the bilateral accord, it is simply impermissible. It is only reasonable that Japan has protested at such occasions as a bilateral foreign ministerial meeting, and called on Seoul to abide by the accord.
Don’t fear rupture
South Korean Minister of Gender Equality and Family Chung Hyun Back, during an interview with a South Korean newspaper, went so far as to say that South Korea will dissolve within this year a foundation set up to support the comfort women. Regarding such irresponsible moves to completely retract the accord, it would be of significance for Tokyo to express a warning to Seoul during the summit talks.
Within the ruling parties, there have been voices supporting Abe’s visit to South Korea, saying that with the Tokyo Olympics slated for 2020, politics and sports should be handled separately.
It should not be forgotten that many members of the ruling parties are also calling for a measured response, saying it may send the erroneous message that Japan accepts the new policy.
Although South Korea welcomes Abe’s visit to the country, there is not necessarily a guarantee that the summit talks will bring about tangible results. It is inevitable that Abe’s visit to South Korea will involve risk.
Abe, without being afraid that his meeting with Moon may result in a rupture, needs to properly demand that Seoul correct what he believes needs to be corrected, and to aim at expanding bilateral cooperation between the two countries as well.
Moon, for his part, must take seriously the gravity of Abe’s decision to visit South Korea, despite voices of caution at home, and respond positively.
North Korea is shaking up the reconciliatory Moon administration through inter-Korea dialogue and the formation of a unified team for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, apparently to create a rift in the cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is also scheduled to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.
Cooperating with Pence, Abe should urge South Korea not to disrupt the cooperation among the three countries.
The international community is applying pressure on North Korea through economic sanctions. South Korea resuming humanitarian aid to Pyongyang would diminish the effect of such pressure. South Korea must refrain from moves that would run counter to the joint action taken by countries concerned.