Prove sincerity with actionIn a nationally televised speech on Monday marking the 102nd anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement, President Moon Jae-in stressed the importance of future-oriented cooperation with Japan. “We cannot get stuck in the past,” he said. We welcome his intention to improve relations with Japan, however belatedly. But his speech lacked substance as it skipped any mention of how to address the ongoing disputes over wartime sexual slavery and forced labor. If Moon really wants to put the highly strained relations back on track, actions must follow.
Moon delivered a more forward-looking address than his previous speeches on March 1 or Liberation Day on August 15. In earlier speeches, he highlighted Japan’s brutal atrocities at home and abroad during the colonial days and “our long-overdue task of rooting out colonial legacies Japan left behind.” Moon’s aides and government ministers wholeheartedly joined the chorus in denouncing Japan — and pushing relations with our neighbor off a cliff.
What matters now is both sides’ efforts to repair ties. Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong has not yet had a phone conversation with his Japanese counterpart even though he assumed the post 20 days ago. Kang Chang-il, Korea’s ambassador to Japan, has not even met Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, not to mention Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, since he arrived in Tokyo in January. Japan’s new Ambassador to Seoul, Koichi Aiboshi, has also not yet met our foreign minister. The responsibility for such serious schisms in relations must be fixed by both sides. We urge Tokyo to approach the diplomatic deadlock in a more open and sincere manner.
In Monday’s speech, Moon proposed cooperation with Japan on the Tokyo Olympics and on the fight against Covid-19. But that kind of cooperation is not enough to turn relations around. If Moon underscores the importance of cooperation on the Summer Games with North Korea in mind, his motivation will be suspected. The answer lies in finding effective solutions to the thorny issues of the past. Moon only mentioned the need to “find a wise solution” to the conundrum without presenting any details on how to accomplish that goal. Will Tokyo react positively to such a vague proposal?
The Moon administration must come up with more far-reaching and constructive solutions through consultations with Japan. Escalating working-level talks between Seoul and Tokyo to higher levels could be a first step to achieve that goal. If Moon wants to improve our relations with Japan, he must prove it through action. The same applies to the Suga administration across the strait.