Will Moon make it to Tokyo?
The author is a Tokyo correspondent at the JoongAng Ilbo.
On Sunday, around 50 cars and motorcycles lined up near the residence of the Japanese emperor. It was a rehearsal for a parade celebrating Emperor Naruhito’s coronation on Oct. 22. The emperor and his wife will ride a Toyota Century convertible 4.6 kilometers (2.9 miles) through downtown Tokyo surrounded by cheering Japanese citizens.
The coronation, the first in 30 years, is being seen as a celebration in Japan because former Emperor Akihito abdicated the throne amid an economic recovery, giving the country confidence. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to hold a meeting with around 50 people visiting from many countries. Korea hasn’t named who will attend the event, but President Moon Jae-in’s visit seems possible.
What would Japanese people think if President Moon attends the coronation? A source in Tokyo with deep knowledge about Korea-Japan relations said, “If President Moon attends the event, any grudges held by Japanese people will melt away.”
Many consider former President Lee Myung-bak’s Dokdo visit in 2012 as the beginning of the current struggles in the bilateral relationship, but what angered Japanese people were his remarks demanding an apology from the Japanese emperor. As Japan’s emperor is practically a religious figure to Japanese people, they were extremely upset by his comments.
A series of events such as scrapping the comfort women deal and the ruling on compensation for forced labor by Japan, has created an understanding in Japanese society that the Moon Jae-in administration is anti-Japanese and pro-North Korea. Japan’s Economic Minister Isshu Sugawara openly said that restricting exports is an issue that did not exist before the Moon administration. A source knowledgeable about the Liberal Democratic Party’s situation says that Moon’s visit would have an impact, and Japan would think that Korea has the will to improve relations.
At the interpellation session for the Korean Embassy in Japan on Oct. 4, a visit by President Moon was mentioned. Democratic Party lawmaker Park Byeong-seug said that if the two leaders made a strategic decision, Moon may attend the event. Korean Ambassador to Japan Nam Gwan-pyo said that anything is possible if it helps restore Korea-Japan ties.
Of course, there are many factors to consider in preparation for a presidential trip to Tokyo. The biggest obstacle is public opinion in Korea. When Japan put export bans against Korea, Japanese intellectuals asked Abe if Korea was an enemy.
Moon’s visit to the coronation itself would be a message to Japan. I hope the rare chance won’t be missed.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 8, Page 28