Separation won’t work

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Separation won’t work

President Moon Jae-in invited Thursday a few surviving sex slaves from World War II to the Blue House to try to console their battered souls. He asked them if they really welcomed the agreement between the Park Geun-hye and Shinzo Abe governments to close the chapter on the thorny historical issue. We can hardly find fault with the president’s move given the flaws in the deal, as pointed out by a task force that re-examined the agreement from 2015.

The Park Geun-hye administration should have listened to what the victims said and reflected their wishes in the deal if it really respected them. That’s why Moon accused the former government of pushing it through without considering them, their feelings and their positions on any deal.

But the Moon administration also should have taken into account the positions of victims who were not invited to the Blue House. Most of the victims who met with Moon on Thursday were negative about the deal. However, according to a foundation established to put the 2015 agreement into action, 34 out of the 47 survivors at the time received compensation from the foundation. Even if the receipt of the money does not necessarily mean their approval of the deal, the Moon government nevertheless should have asked them if they really endorsed the agreement.

The “comfort women” issue is certainly one of the major issues between Korea and Japan. But improvement of relations is also important for a better future. The Moon administration wants to separate the sex slave issue from other crucial issues, but that’s wishful thinking. It would be far-fetched for Seoul to expect Tokyo to cooperate on other key issues if Tokyo feels betrayed by Seoul.

Both countries face a common security threat. To cope with the North Korean nuclear threat, we need close cooperation with Japan, particularly now, a month before the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. But Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is reluctant to come to the games.

If the government insists on scrapping or renegotiating the deal, Seoul-Tokyo relations will get worse. Even if the agreement is not legally binding, a promise is a promise. The government should deal with the issue from a long-term perspective. Japan also does not want to worsen relations. Despite our expectations of a tough reaction, Abe did not mention the issue in his New Year’s address. In other words, he kept a prudent posture. Our government must approach the issue very carefully so as not to wreak havoc on our relations with Japan.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 5, Page 40
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