Does South Korean President Moon Jae-in not regard the 1965 Japan-South Korea treaty on basic relations and the redress agreement as the basis for the bilateral relationship between his country and Japan?
Moon told a New Year press conference on Jan. 10 that it is not wise for Japan to politicize the issue surrounding wartime Korean laborers at Japanese factories.
The issue has its roots in Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 through 1945, and the Japanese government, therefore, should adopt a more humble stance toward the problem, according to Moon. The president also indicated his understanding that the South Korean government is in a position to respect the decision made by the South Korean Supreme Court. The court ordered a Japanese company to compensate five former wartime laborers in October last year.
Moon apparently wants to argue that the principle of checks and balances should be followed. If he insists that the issue is a historic problem dating back to the colonial era, then how does he view the 1965 framework that was supposed to settle these historic problems and advance the relationship between Japan and South Korea? It is difficult to say that he is trying to solve these issues.
More than two months have passed since the top court's decision, and it is clear that the matter has developed into a serious diplomatic problem. That is exactly why political leaders need to step up and address issues quickly to come up with a way to settle conflicts.
President Moon did not say at the press conference if he will accept a proposal made by Tokyo for the two governments to discuss the former laborers based on the 1965 redress agreement. It is unfortunate that President Moon did not present concrete steps to solve the problem, and even showed his willingness to stick to a wait-and-see attitude.
Delaying solving the issue will only make it worse. In South Korea, procedures are moving ahead to seize the assets of the Japanese company in response to the Supreme Court decision, and more damage suits against other Japanese companies will surely follow.
Meanwhile, Japan is considering taking the case to the International Court of Justice should South Korea fail to respond to its call for talks. That would mean that the two countries failed to settle the issue diplomatically.
After the Supreme Court decision, a number of problems popped up between Japan and South Korea. They include the dissolution of a foundation set up by South Korea with Japanese government funding to compensate former comfort women and the lock-on of fire-control radar by a South Korean destroyer on a Japanese patrol plane. The bilateral relationship may even deteriorate further.
In South Korea, this year marks the centennial of the March 1 Movement, a large-scale independence drive during Japan's colonial rule. The Moon administration attaches particular importance to this anniversary as a matter of national pride, creating an environment in which historic issues can be played up. The president seems to be putting his country's ties with Japan on the back burner while focusing on improving the South's relationship with North Korea.
Japan, meanwhile, would only destabilize East Asia further if it continues to raise tensions. The two sides should instead confirm once again the importance of Japan-South Korean ties.