How Moon’s words are interpreted
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Lately, Japanese politicians reacted most sensitively to President Moon Jae-in’s comment “The assaulter accuses the victim.” They showed such a reaction when the word “assaulter” reappeared. The “assaulter-victim” rhetoric has long dominated the Korea-Japan relationship. Korea can constantly demand an apology from Japan because Japan — the assaulter — must apologize until the victim can fully forgive.
But after the Supreme Court rulings on wartime forced labor, the Japanese government started to argue that Japan is also a victim. Tokyo thinks it has made apologies and compensations over and over, and yet Korea does not accept them. It is the atmosphere behind Japan’s export ban. But it seems that they did not expect to hear the ominous word “assaulter” again — especially from President Moon.
Lately, inside and outside the Japanese government, people increasingly think they made the wrong judgement. They did not expect that Koreans would boycott visiting Japan, and domestic and international opinions condemn Japan’s export ban. Meanwhile, Moon’s remarks — that Korea would not be defeated again and Korea can catch up with Japan through a “peace economy” with North Korea — was interpreted quite differently in Japan. A diplomatic source in Tokyo said that cooperating with the Moon administration’s Korean Peninsula plan is to attack Japan in the end, so it does not make sense to ask for Japan’s cooperation in North Korea issues. As Japan’s cooperation is needed in the future plan of the Korean Peninsula in either the short or long term, President Moon’s message caused an unnecessary misunderstanding.
Moon’s attack on Japan using emotional language was not a very good choice. If he does not intend a complete severing of ties with Tokyo, he should have left room for dialogue. Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has economic ministers engage in the mud fight. As the commander in chief already drew an irreversible line, Korea-Japan relations are facing a dilemma that field diplomats have little discretion on.
Moon will give a Liberation Day speech on Aug. 15. It would not be exaggerating to say that this year’s Liberation Day speech defines the Korea-Japan relations in the next two years or so. That’s why it is garnering more attention than ever.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 13, Page 28