Headed for the worstPresident Moon Jae-in won’t be attending the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. His plan to find a breakthrough in the long deadlocked bilateral relationship through a summit during the event also flopped. It is a pity that the two governments failed to use the Olympic momentum to improve ties. The fiasco over the visit underscores the worst-ever state of the relationship between the two neighboring countries since the normalization of ties in 1965.
Tokyo is largely at fault. Seoul has been eager to hold a summit, whereas Tokyo has responded passively. It conditioned Seoul to address the stumbling blocks of the wartime labor compensation and comfort women issues first. It indicated it did not wish to host the South Korean leader unless he had something to give. Tokyo’s thoughts were revealed by deputy chief of mission to Korea Hirohisa Soma.
Japan has neglected the imperative need for a summit by using the card to draw a surrender from Korea. Such high-handedness cannot win approval from the Korean people.
The Blue House came to decide not to push for the visit after a long deliberation. Soma’s controversial remarks about President Moon worsened public hostility. Moon could not have gone through with the visit under such negative environment.
Still, the government is not free from the responsibility of ruining the chance. The Supreme Court’s ruling for individual compensation for wartime forced labor for Japanese companies was delivered in October 2018. Three years have passed since, but the Moon administration has not made any efforts to solve the problem through political or diplomatic means.
Senior members of the ruling Democratic Party and government officials fanned anti-Japanese sentiment among the public. All the negative feelings could not have been erased through the Olympics.
The bilateral relationship and feeling would likely worsen after the failed visit to Tokyo. The restoration of the tripartite relationship among Korea, the U.S., and Japan also cannot be possible under such environment. Still, the two governments must not give up trying to rebuild trust and relations. Trust cannot be built overnight. Problems should be addressed persistently on working levels so that momentum does not go to waste next time. Both governments must learn a lesson from the latest fallout.