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Editorial: After Moon's election, Japan, S. Korea should focus on stabilizing region

The victory of Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea in the South Korean presidential election should be a step toward ending the political turmoil triggered by his predecessor's downfall and stabilizing the country.

The Moon government will be the first center-left administration since the Roh Moo-hyun government that lasted from 2003 to 2008.

Amid rising tensions the past month over the North Korean situation, conservative forces in South Korea criticized Moon during the election campaign for his conciliatory stance toward Pyongyang, but it did not have much influence on the outcome of the presidential race.

Rather, share prices rose in South Korea and hit a six-year high last week, apparently reflecting investors' expectations for an end to the six-month-long political vacuum in the country.

This was the first time in South Korea that a presidential election had been called following the impeachment of an incumbent president. The new government will be forced to take over the negative legacy left by Moon's predecessor Park Geun-hye. That being the case, the most important mission for the Moon administration will be nation-building efforts that will overcome the adverse legacy.

First and foremost, we would like the new president to launch efforts to stabilize Japan-South Korea relations. An agreement reached between Tokyo and Seoul in 2015 to settle their dispute over the "comfort women" issue forms the basis for current bilateral relations. The accord also led to the conclusion of the General Security of Military Information Agreement between the two countries.

Nevertheless, Moon has been critical of the bilateral agreement on the comfort women matter and demanded that Japan renegotiate the issue with South Korea. It is impermissible for the new president to unilaterally overturn any accord between nations.

Moon argues that the deal does not reflect former comfort women's views, but over 70 percent of these women have accepted a project to extend relief to them, which is incorporated in the pact. The two countries' efforts to seek a resolution to the matter while former comfort women are alive should be appreciated in a fair manner.

Japan has criticized the placement of a girl's statue representing comfort women in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. The erection of another similar statue in front of the Japanese Consulate General in Busan has stirred further protests from Tokyo.

It is unfortunate that Seoul tends to underestimate the seriousness of the issue caused by theses statues. The new South Korean government should respond to the issue based on the spirit of the 2015 agreement.

Considering rising tensions in Northeast Asia, strengthening relations between Japan and South Korea will benefit both countries. Nevertheless, a gap in historical perceptions and the territorial issue have hindered bilateral cooperation in recent years.

Outstanding issues between Tokyo and Seoul tend to provoke national sentiments in both countries. The Japanese and South Korean governments are in similar positions in that both need to pay close attention and show consideration to respective public opinion. Political leaders in Japan and South Korea therefore have a responsibility to avoid a vicious circle of taking a tough stance and driving each other into a corner.

Close cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea should be the basis when dealing with North Korea. We demand Moon take a realistic approach to the situation in Pyongyang.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has drawn up a new policy of increasing the country's military and diplomatic pressure on North Korea to the maximum extent to pave the way for negotiations to help settle issues involving the North's nuclear weapons development program. Washington is aiming to join hands with Beijing in heightening its pressure on Pyongyang.

This means that Moon's policy toward North Korea could clash with the U.S. policy. In particular, his attempt to seek a reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Region, a special administrative region in North Korea in which South Korean companies operate and employ North Korean people, would run counter to the international trend of putting pressure on Pyongyang.

The United States is not seeking a regime change in the North. Both Washington and Seoul want to settle the North Korean crisis through dialogue. If the South is to hastily pursue reconciliation with the North, it would adversely affect its cooperation with Japan and the United States, which could give Pyongyang a chance to move ahead with its nuclear program.

At the same time, the new president will likely face serious challenges regarding domestic reforms. Successive South Korean presidents since the country's democratization in the late 1980s have been hit by scandals at the ends of their tenures involving their relatives or aides. Critics have pointed out that the concentration of power on the president is the cause of the problem, which has been criticized for giving rise to collusive relations between those in power and major businesses.

There have been calls for political reforms within the country, and efforts have been made to limit the president's power. Still, Park ended up being impeached.

It has been pointed out that constitutional revisions are necessary to fundamentally reform Seoul's domestic political system. The new president faces a serious task to form consensus among members of the public on specific reform measures.

The impeachment of Park as president and the fierce election campaign that followed have intensified the conflict between left and right political forces in South Korea. Whether the Moon administration can calm down the conflict will be a litmus test for the new president's ability to lead the country.

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