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INTERNATIONAL > East Asia & Pacific

Japan, South Korea should cooperate in economic security: advisor to ROK’s opposition presidential candidate

  • December 22, 2021
  • , Nikkei , p. 13
  • JMH Translation

Interviewed by Onchi Yosuke


SEOUL – In South Korea, the battle for the presidency is heating up between the ruling and opposition candidates as the country is set to select its next leader in March. To resolve complicated problems still pending between Japan and South Korea, former Korean National Diplomatic Academy Chancellor Yun Duk-min, the diplomatic brain of opposition People Power Party candidate and former prosecutor general Yoon Seok-youl, pointed out that the government needs to give stronger authority to frontline negotiators who oversee the country’s ties with Japan and build a mechanism that can discuss outstanding issues over the long term.


[Excerpts of the interview follow.]


Q: How do you assess the Moon administration’s handling of diplomatic policies?


Yun: The Moon administration gave top priority to inter-Korean relations. It called skilled bureaucrats who have long supported the past conservative governments “a deep-rooted evil” and never trusted them. This approach particularly dealt a serious blow to diplomats who have handled Japan affairs and put them in a bind.


Regarding the lawsuit involving former requisitioned workers, the government came up with the strange argument that “the executive branch of government cannot intervene in the judiciary branch” and left this untouched. In a sovereign state, the judiciary and the ministry of foreign affairs should conduct discreet discussions of each other’s position. President Moon should have done this on his own responsibility.


Q: In his campaign, Yoon has pledged to resolve longstanding issues between Japan and South Korea in a comprehensive fashion.


Yun: He would take a forward-looking approach in dealing with Japan. But this may hit a snag without efforts from the Japanese side as well. Widespread anti-Korean sentiment in Japan as well as the yawning gap in historical interpretation between the two nations are worrisome factors. This is because leaders of the two nations must have public support to create momentum for improving bilateral ties.


Bilateral issues that remain unresolved are becoming more complicated, as the two nations are facing a more difficult issue soon after one problem is resolved. One approach is to put all issues on one table and give power to people capable of negotiating [with Japan] so that they can spend time coming up with solutions. Leaving deteriorated ties unresolved will do no good for both nations strategically. With tensions between the U.S. and China escalating, Japan and South Korea can work together in many fields including economic security.


Q: How do you think Seoul should deal with escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing?


Yun: As we are surrounded by big powers, we have a history of invasion and war over the past century. Since the end of the Korean War, we have managed to maintain our national interests by making the Korea-U.S. alliance the centerpiece of foreign policy and keeping a good balance between our relations with China, Russia and Japan. In addition to maintaining our alliance with the U.S., we also find it very important to retain networks with China as is our geopolitical destiny.


Q: How would you move forward denuclearization negotiations with North Korea?


Yun: To protect our people from North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles, we should increase the credibility of the extended deterrence provided by the U.S. “nuclear strike capability” and build missile defense networks. On nuclear development, we should conduct peaceful negotiations with North Korea over the long term based on that.


Economic sanctions against the North need to be put in place until denuclearization is fully achieved. Few means would be left to lead North Korea to denuclearization if economic sanctions were lifted without significant progress. We would like to provide assistance if the North abandons nuclear weapons and takes step to become a normal state. 


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