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South Korea Has A ‘Vehemently Anti-Japanese’ New President: What Now?




“We have nothing but apprehension since such a vehemently anti-Japanese president has won.”


Those close to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lamented on the night of May 9th when Moon Jae-in won the South Korean Presidential Election. Even the Japanese government had expected Moon’s win as he was popular enough in pre-election polls, the news was a big deal for Japanese leaders.



Moon is a veteran of tattletale diplomacy. He was the closest aide to Roh Moo-hyun, the most left-wing president in South Korean history, known for fanning the flames of anti-Japanese sentiment over historical issues. Post inauguration, Roh exhibited a positive attitude toward building better relations with Japan, but was soon unable to conceal his vehement anti-Japanese position.



Abe recalls that, during his first administration, Roh abruptly began an address at an international conference with “Is Japan even qualified to criticize the issue of North Korean abductions?” — completely out of context.


In his first meeting with United States Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Roh declared that “Japan is the virtual enemy of Japan.” He was known to have annoyed Rumsfeld by preaching endlessly about historical issues with Japan.


In July of 2006, in the waters off Takeshima Island (Okinoshima-cho, Shimane Prefecture), an island illegally occupied by South Korea, Roh caused a volatile situation. He permitted “lethal fire” (designed to sink a vessel) on a Japan Coast Guard Patrol ship, which was conducting surveillance on a Korean research vessel doing a survey on ocean current .  


Roh announced that he would “not hesitate to conduct a tough diplomatic war” and outlined a “new Japan-policy doctrine.” At the same time, he introduced a new campaign involving continually raising Japan-related historical issues at international events, such as the United Nations.



The fierce criticism of Yasukini Shrine visits by Japanese Prime Ministers and cabinet officials began during Roh’s presidency, having previously been quietly observed at an official level.  


“Clearing out of the Japanophiles”

President Roh’s policy toward Japan is related to the continued condescension faced by Japan in international circles as part of the history issues campaign. To that extent, one cannot take it lightly when Moon, following in the footsteps of Roh, says, “If I win this Presidency, I will clear out the Japanophiles.”


Last July, Moon visited Takeshima (Okinoshima-cho, Shimane Prefecture). As one of his election campaign promises, he promoted the renegotiation of the Japan-South Korea Comfort Women Issue Agreement. In January of this year , he visited the Comfort Women Statue located in front of the Japanese Consulate in Busan, saying, “We will maintain interest in this issue, so as not to let the statue be lonely.”



Nevertheless, the Japanese government is immune to these kind of irrational responses from South Korea. They are not merely watching Moon’s anti-Japanese campaign with trepidation, since, as a senior official has said, “It doesn't matter who becomes president, the anti-Japanese rhetoric remains the same.”


The 1-Billion-Yen Settlement

Even if the new Moon administration desires to destroy the “final and irreversible” solution to the comfort women issue, the government has no intention of being drawn in.


“There is no change to the importance of the fact that both parties (Japan and South Korea), were responsible for entering into the agreement,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a press conference on May 10th. He repeatedly called for South Korea to continue to uphold the terms of the agreement, emphasizing the government’s stance of not participating in further consultations.


At the end of last year’s agreement, the Abe administration contributed 1 billion yen in “settlement money,” drawing a line in the sand. Hereafter, with respect to the comfort women issue, no matter what is said, the government will not be drawn in, having decided on a tactic of “strategic neglect,” a senior official said.



After the 1-billion-yen payout, Prime Minister Abe told those around him, “The Korean opposition party is rebelling against it, saying return the money to Japan and so forth, but whatever you do, do not accept a refund.”                    


Conscripts are the Next Target

Following this, it is possible that the South Koreans will expand the anti-Japanese movement among public and private sectors in the international community, just as  what the previous Park Guen administration did. The signs are already there. Following the comfort women issue, the next target is the issue of laborers conscripted during the Japanese reign in the Korean Peninsula.


Korean citizens’ groups have announced plans to install statues of conscripted workers in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, the Japanese Consulate in Busan, and the Gwangju Train Station. The issue of the conscripted workers was “completely and finally resolved,” as clearly written in the Japanese Korean Right to Claims Agreement, in accordance with the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and South Korea. However, the citizens’ groups are seeking compensation and an apology from the Japanese government.



The underlying cause of this, too, was the Roh administration’s announcement in August 2008 of the one-sided view that the comfort women, Koreans in Sakhalin, and Korean atomic bomb victims were not covered by the claims agreement, so the Japanese government had a legal responsibility to them too.


“Japan must continue to express ‘anger’ rather than ‘concern’ to Korea. They should construct a statue of the Vietnamese women taken as comfort women by the Korean soldiers during the Vietnam War and erect it in front of the Korean Embassy in Japan.” These are the kinds of pent-up feelings and grudges being leveled by the foreign ministry officials against South Korea.


The reality is that both public and private Japanese citizens have grown cold toward Korea. If Moon ignores the the Right to Claims Agreement, which is the basis of the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and South Korea, then the very significance and existence of the treaty itself may become unstable.



Rui Abiru and Makiko Takita from the Sankei Shimbun have contributed to this article.




(Click here to read the original article in Japanese)


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