The Tuesday editions of all national dailies reported from Seoul on remarks made to the press yesterday by President Moon on the requisitioned workers dispute with Japan. “Liquidation [of the financial assets of Japanese firms seized by local courts] is not desirable in the context of ROK-Japan relations,” he was quoted as saying. “I am confident that the two governments can discuss measurers that will be satisfactory to the victims and that the South Korean government can resolve the problem by persuading them.” The papers interpreted the statement to mean that Seoul might have decided to abandon its previous policy of respecting judicial decisions and is now willing to seek a diplomatic solution. The South Korean leader also reportedly commented on a recent local court ruling ordering the Japanese government to pay compensation to former comfort women. “Honestly speaking, I am perplexed that the issue of the comfort women ruling has emerged while we are making diplomatic efforts,” said President Moon. “The government acknowledges that [the 2015 comfort women agreement with Japan] is a formal pact, upon which we will build and find a solution that the victims can embrace.”
Yomiuri speculated that the top ROK official softened its approach toward Japan perhaps In a bid to enlist Tokyo’s cooperation so that he can “leave a legacy” on his signature policy of establishing reconciliation with North Korea, which has been stalled as a result of rupture in denuclearization talks between the Kim regime and the Trump administration. Seoul is reportedly hoping that Tokyo will join hands to press President-elect Biden to restart dialogue with Pyongyang quickly in the belief that the denuclearization talks collapsed because President Trump took a hard line as a result of Japan’s lobbying.
Japan reportedly reacted cautiously to President Moon’s apparent policy shift on the history disputes, with Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sakai saying to the press yesterday: “We took note of the president’s remarks. We will be keeping a close eye on the South Korean government’s next moves.” Because Moon did not mention any concrete steps that his administration will take to settle the disputes, Tokyo is still skeptical about his commitment to finding a solution. “The disputes can’t be resolved through bilateral dialogue,” said a Japanese diplomatic source, adding that Seoul should act unilaterally to dismiss the relevant lawsuits without Japan’s involvement. Yomiuri focused on Prime Minister Suga’s reference to South Korea as being Japan’s “important neighbor” during his key policy speech at the Diet yesterday, explaining that former PM Abe called the nation an “extremely important neighbor” in similar parliamentary speeches. The paper claimed that Suga “downgraded” Seoul to demonstrate his distrust of the Moon administration.