(First of 2 Parts)
The relationship between Japan and South Korea is often said to be at its lowest ebb in decades. From territorial disputes to intelligence sharing and trade disagreements to “history wars,” when South Korea and Japan are juxtaposed in the news it is almost always in a negative context.
But the bad news obscures much good that is taking place between Japan and South Korea, a great deal of it at the grassroots level.
The Moon Jae In administration in South Korea has made an anti-Japan, anti-American, pro-North Korean policy the platform of its regional and global activities. But many South Koreans are deeply dissatisfied with the status quo and anxious to emphasize the importance of the U.S.-ROK-Japan alliance.
JAPAN Forward recently caught up with Hanjin Lew, an opinion leader in South Korea and expert on alliance politics. He is the chief spokesperson for international affairs for Our Republican Party, a political party based in Seoul. The excerpts from Mr. Lew’s two-part interview below reveal a side of South Korea that it is hoped will find much broader news coverage going forward.
The Our Republican Party has a high regard for the U.S.-ROK-Japan alliance. Tell us a little more about your views.
The annual white papers of both Japan and South Korea usually state that the two countries are “important neighbors that share basic principles,” and rightly so. Unfortunately, these words have been deleted recently due to Moon Jae In’s incitement of anti-Japanese sentiment.
I like this quote by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence: “As history attests, a country that oppresses its own people rarely stops there.”
We feel that the Moon administration in South Korea is teaming up with a North Korea that does just what Vice President Pence warns about. And we want to build up the alliance among responsible states to counter this bad influence.
What do you make of recent developments regarding North Korea on the issues of abductions and human rights in East Asia?
In December 2019, I went to Japan to attend a symposium on the Abduction of Japanese Citizens by North Korea. The symposium was hosted by the Japanese government. Having attended the same symposium in 2018, it was disheartening to see the process repeat again.
At the symposium, Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea as well as a moderator for the panel discussion, rightly pointed out that the human rights issue deserved more attention.
South Korea and Japan must work together to solve the abduction issue. South Korea has provided and should continue to provide Japan HUMINT (human intelligence) that greatly increases the intelligence regarding abductees. Likewise, Japan should provide South Korea with intelligence in the areas where South Korea is lacking in. The two countries can synergize.
How can a focus on human rights and intelligence sharing help repair the U.S.-ROK-Japan alliance?
In South Korea, although the Moon Jae In government extended the General Security of Military Information Agreement at the 11th hour, Moon had previously declared that he would terminate GSOMIA, jeopardizing the U.S., Japan, and South Korea tripartite coalition and regional security.
I think the disconnect stems from a failure to see that human rights and military force are related. We need to remind ourselves of the inherent link between human rights and national security. Human rights does not concern just those who value it as a humanitarian and ideological issue.
Simply put, we call the violation of the rights of an individual human rights abuse, and the violation of the rights of a group of individuals that make up a nation-state a national security threat. In essence the only difference between human rights abuse and national security threat is the number of people involved at a given time and place.
President Moon Jae In’s record on human rights in South Korea has come under criticism. How does this affect ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea over denuclearization of the peninsula?
A government’s treatment of its own people indicates its intentions to the rest of the world. Therefore, foreign policy for democracies must not be based on how a totalitarian regime treats us, but, rather, how it treats its own people.
A country that does not respect the rights of its own people will not respect the rights of others either. A North Korea that abuses the rights of its own people has no qualms about abducting U.S. and Japanese nationals and abusing their rights. Human rights must be the basis of negotiations.
Speaking of human rights, President Moon has made some very controversial statements about those in South Korea who disagree with him. Can you talk a little about that?
Moon has made public remarks against South Korean conservatives, saying he wants to “burn Korean conservatives to death.” These are not the words of someone who truly values human rights.
We are deeply concerned about the direction South Korea is headed under President Moon. It is no coincidence that Moon, who has imprisoned hundreds of South Korean conservatives, is also violating the rights of Japan and the U.S.
For example, Moon declared not only the termination of GSOMIA, but also has sought to invalidate the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the ROK. This is a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which explicitly states that international treaty supersedes any domestic law and ruling.
The Our Republican Party has been most vocal in stating our stance that South Korea must accept the 1965 treaty, that all wartime claims have been settled completely and finally. Any dispute must be solved within the framework of the 1965 treaty.
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- South Korea Welcomes Trump with Anti-Japan Reception
- The First Step Towards Normal Relations is Removing Japan’s Special Treatment of South Korea
Interview by: Jason Morgan