It is good if the people of both Japan and South Korea have become increasingly aware of the need to improve bilateral relations to deal with the rise of China and the threat posed by North Korea.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in should take such public opinion seriously and try to break the deadlock in relations with Japan, which has been caused by the South Korean side persistently dredging up historical issues.
In a joint survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun and The Hankook Ilbo of South Korea, 81% of Japanese and 89% of South Korean respondents said that the current relationship between Japan and South Korea is “bad.” In addition, 69% of Japanese and 80% of South Korean respondents answered that the other country is “not reliable.”
Since the South Korean Supreme Court finalized a ruling in 2018 ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation to South Korean former requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula, the percentage of respondents in both countries who replied the bilateral relations are “bad” has surpassed 80%.
It is a serious problem that the deterioration of intergovernmental relations has affected public sentiment and exacerbated mutual distrust.
On the other hand, there was considerable agreement between the two sides on the regional security environment and shared diplomatic concerns.
Respondents who consider China’s growing military pressure on its neighbors as a “threat” to their countries accounted for 88% on the Japanese side, and 72% on the South Korean side. The majority — 59% in Japan and 64% in South Korea – said that their countries should take concerted action with the United States to put pressure on China.
Taking into account the United States insisting that Japan and South Korea need to improve their relations with each other for the sake of dealing with China and North Korea, 68% of the respondents in both countries said that Japan and South Korea should improve their relations.
This can be said to indicate a cool-headed view that Japan and South Korea should work together on common issues of regional stability and strengthen trilateral cooperation among themselves and the United States.
To resolve the confrontation between Japan and South Korea, the two countries must return to the 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation, in which the two countries stipulated that the problem of the claims was resolved “completely and finally.” It is obvious that the Moon administration did not respect the agreement and heightened the momentum of anti-Japanese sentiment that led to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
However, on June 7, the Seoul Central District Court rejected the plaintiffs’ claim in another lawsuit filed by former requisitioned workers, expressing a view that was different from the ruling by the Supreme Court.
The ruling by the Seoul Central District Court said that the exercise of the plaintiffs’ right to seek compensation from the Japanese side was restricted by the 1965 Japan-South Korea agreement. This is a reasonable judgment in line with international law, but it does not mean that the Supreme Court’s ruling has lost its effect.
South Korean courts’ decisions on historical issues have been in turmoil. It is important for Moon, who is in charge of foreign policy, to deal with pending issues between Japan and South Korea responsibly without being swayed by the judiciary.
Recently, Moon has made remarks that show his eagerness to improve bilateral relations. The president needs to put his words into concrete action.