Moon’s speech inflames history issues

opinion August 19, 2017 01:00

By The Yomiuri Shimbun
Asia News Network

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s latest remarks fly in the face of efforts to build “future-oriented” relations between Japan and South Korea.

Moon delivered an address at an annual National Liberation Day ceremony marking the liberation of Korea from Japan’s prewar colonial rule.

In his speech, the president expounded his opinion regarding how to resolve history problems, such as the comfort women issue and the dispute over Japan’s “compulsory recruitment” of Korean workers. There is “a principle in the international community” that calls for restoring the honor of victims and paying them compensation, he said. Then Moon urged our nation to adopt “a courageous attitude” on these issues. He also expressed his view that changes in the Japanese government’s historical perception have been undermining efforts to improve bilateral ties.

His assertion is simply self-righteous, and it cannot possibly be accepted. The blame for the history issue being recently reignited falls on South Korea, which has not honoured a deal previously reached with Japan and has levelled new demands at our nation.

The issue of compensation to former requisitioned workers was settled under the Japan-South Korea agreement on property and claims of 1965. This view was confirmed by the administration of former President Roh Moo Hyun, whose officials included Moon himself. It was unreasonable for Moon to say in his speech, “The suffering incurred through the compulsory recruitment is continuing.”

The Japan-South Korea accord, reached in late 2015, states that the comfort women issue has been settled “finally and irreversibly”. However, Moon never referred to this in his speech.

Implementing the 2015 accord sincerely will lead to the solution of the history issue. Does Moon seriously hope to improve the bilateral relationship? We cannot help but doubt it.

Fixed-route bus services, carrying statues of a girl symbolising the comfort women installed on seats, have been inaugurated in Seoul. It is safe to say that anti-Japanese sentiment has been stirred up among South Koreans by the Moon administration’s move to enact a commemoration day marking the comfort women issue.

Moon also expressed a desire to facilitate reciprocal visits by the Japanese and South Korean leaders while also jointly dealing with North Korea’s nuclear and missile problem. His stance seems to be too opportunistic.

In reference to the North, he emphasised that halting provocations, such as a nuclear test and ballistic missile launch, will mark an initial step toward resolving the problem. He also expressed hope for an improvement in the South-North relationship, saying that “the doors will be kept open” for talks between military officials from both nations.

Moon’s remark about military actions on the Korean Peninsula is worrying. “Nobody can make a decision without the consent of South Korea. The South Korean government will risk everything it has to prevent a war,” he said.

North Korea has militarily threatened the United States by announcing a plan to test-fire a volley of ballistic missiles into waters surrounding the US territory of Guam. US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis clearly stated his country would exercise its right of self-defence, saying that if the North conducts a missile launch aimed at the United States, it could “escalate into war”.

Moon’s remark could send North Korea an erroneous message to the effect that South Korea will prevent a US attack on the North. The United States and South Korea should reinforce their cooperation in this respect to prevent the exploitation of any crack in their alliance.