South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who came to power in May 2017, has expressed his intention to pursue a “future-oriented” relationship with Japan. But the reality is that things are going in the opposite direction. There are now other issues cropping up in addition to the lawsuits over former requisitioned workers, rapidly cooling the bilateral relationship.
What has become particularly complicated these days is the incident in which a South Korean navy destroyer illuminated a Maritime Self-Defense Force P-1 patrol plane with its fire control radar in the Sea of Japan on Dec. 20 last year. The South Korean government initially implied that the destroyer might have used fire control radar during its search at sea for a missing North Korean ship. But it later changed its assertion to totally deny the use of radar.
Talks between the Japanese and South Korean defense authorities also got nowhere due to conflicting allegations. So the Ministry of Defense of Japan released a video on Dec. 28 last year that contains footage of the patrol plane’s crew detecting radar illumination. In response to this, the South Korean government released a video on Jan. 4 in the form of countering the Japanese government and on the contrary demanded an apology, insisting that Japan made a dangerous low-altitude flight. A Japanese government official refutes: “It was a flight that complied with international law. South Korea is switching the focus of argument over the radar issue.”
Also, as for the Japan-South Korea agreement on the comfort women issue reached in 2015, the South Korean government in November last year unilaterally announced its plan to go ahead with procedures to dissolve a foundation created based on the agreement to support former comfort women.
In recent years, Japan and South Korea strengthened cooperation primarily in the security area through the intermediation of the U.S. in the wake of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development. But now with Pyongyang refraining from ballistic missile launches and other provocations, some in the Japanese government say, “Japan and South Korea have no chance to try to change the bilateral relations for the better.”