An address without a visionPresident Moon Jae-in was unprecedently dovish toward Japan in his Aug. 15 Liberation Day address. “The door for dialogue with Japan is always open,” he said, The two neighboring countries could set an “example” with a cooperative relationship, he added while leaving out the usual critical remarks on past issues and hardline position he had maintained since taking office.
The two countries can achieve co-prosperity through divided roles and cooperation based on their common values of democracy and market economy, which both must be upheld in the future, he said. Instead of hyping the conflict and differences, he pointed to the commonness of the two countries. Regardless of who comes to office after the presidential election in March, such a position must be the basis of bilateral ties. It is a pity that Moon has arrived on such judgment four years into office.
In his first Liberation day speech after taking office in May 2017, he blamed the Japanese government’s “perception of history” for the deadlocked Korea-Japan relationship. In his address on Liberation Day in 2018 when tensions hit their worst due to Japan’s export curbs following court rulings on wartime labor, he vowed the nation would be unwavering against any threat and later floated the idea of scrapping the bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) by declaring never to be defeated by Japan. Moon opted to corner Tokyo over past issues.
But such a hardline stance over the last four years has brought about little gain for the country. Tokyo has not eased or changed its position on the past. Both countries could not have a summit meeting and mutual public sentiment toward each other is at its worst. The government’s hardline stance toward Japan has been a failure. If Moon has come to the cool judgment, and was not just making diplomatic rhetoric, actions must follow.
Seoul is not at fault alone for the worsened ties. Tokyo has been recalcitrant on past issues. It also has been passive in responding to Moon’s proposal of dialogue. Moon has is now more eager to reconcile. Tokyo must also become more responsive. The bottleneck in bilateral relations will finally ease only when the two governments return to dialogue with open-mindedness.