The results can be said to represent stern views on relations between Japan and South Korea spreading among the people in both countries. For the time being, Japan has no choice but to continue cooperation in necessary fields and minimize negative impacts.
According to a poll jointly conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun and The Hankook Ilbo of South Korea, 84% of Japanese respondents and 91% of South Korean respondents said the current bilateral relationship is “bad.” The poll began in 1995, but the figure for Japanese respondents was the third worst, while that for South Korea was the worst.
The majority of respondents in both countries answered that they cannot trust each other. The Japanese side has been increasingly frustrated by South Korea persistently dredging up historical issues.
The administration led by South Korean President Moon Jae-in bears a heavy responsibility. Since the Korean Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation to former requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula, the administration has not presented a feasible solution.
The Japanese government maintains that the issue regarding the former requisitioned workers has been resolved by the 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation between the two countries and the supreme court ruling violates international law.
As to the claim by the Japanese government, 79% of Japanese respondents answered that it is “convincing,” while 81% of South Korean respondents replied that they “cannot agree to it.” There is a wide gap.
Based on the supreme court ruling, assets of Japanese companies have been seized. If the seized assets are converted into cash, the companies would suffer a direct disadvantage. This is a situation that Japan simply cannot accept.
The Moon administration must be aware of a possible serious blow to the bilateral relations and take measures to break the deadlock. If it insists that compensation for former requisitioned workers is necessary, it is reasonable that the South Korean government takes the lead to proceed with a project to pay them.
The hardening of South Korean public sentiment is seen as a reaction to Japan’s tighter export controls toward South Korea. The South Korean government has announced that it will resume procedures to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization, accusing Japan of an action violating WTO rules.
The Moon administration is gaining confidence as the public has a high opinion of its efforts to combat the novel coronavirus. The ruling party won a landslide victory in the general election in April. Under the current situation in which the administration has strengthened its base, it cannot be expected that the hard-line policy toward Japan will be largely revised.
The important thing is to stop the bilateral conflict from spreading to fields such as security that need cooperation between Japan and South Korea.
In the poll, as to a question about which country the respondents feel threatened by militarily, with multiple answers allowed, 79% of Japanese respondents and 63% of South Korean respondents mentioned “North Korea,” the highest for both countries. About 80% of the respondents of both countries said that China was “unreliable.”
North Korea has repeated provocative actions, such as the launching of missiles, while China continues its military buildup. For the sake of stability in Northeast Asia, it is necessary for Japan and South Korea to maintain a cooperative relationship centered around the United States.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 11, 2020.