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New South Korean President—Papers Call for Trilateral Cooperation and Honoring Comfort Women Agreement

post date : 2017.05.17

These articles present editorials from leading Japanese newspapers (Asahi, Sankei, Nikkei, Mainichi, Yomiuri) covering the same theme.


The Asahi shimbun: Work towards reconciliation and rebuild the national government

The Sankei Shimbun: Start by cooperating with Japan and the U.S. against North Korea

The Nikkei: Will South Korea be able to last with a pro-North policy?

The Mainichi Shimbun: After Moon's election, Japan, S. Korea should focus on stabilizing region

The Yomiuri Shimbun: Will Moon, as president of S. Korea, stick to ‘pro-North, anti-Japan’ stance?


Photo: Reuters/AFLO


Presidential elections were held in South Korea on May 9, and with the victory of Moon Jae-in of the progressive Democratic Party of Korea (the largest of the opposition parties), South Korea changed from a conservative administration to a left-leaning one for the first time in nine years. While campaigning, President Moon argued for a policy of reconciliation with North Korea, and for renegotiating the agreement on comfort women reached between Japan and South Korea at the end of 2015. In their May 10 editorials (expanded editions in the Mainichi and Nikkei), all five national dailies reinforced the importance of trilateral cooperation on security between Japan, South Korea, and the U.S., considering how North Korea has accelerated its development of missiles and nuclear weapons. All five papers also called for the new South Korean government to honor the agreement between Japan and South Korea on comfort women.


■ Increased Trilateral Cooperation on North Korea


The Yomiuri, commenting on Moon’s policy of reconciliation with North Korea, warned that “a hasty bid to improve the bilateral relationship…could lead to creating a gap in the international encirclement of North Korea,” and emphasized the importance of deterrence by Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. The paper also noted how Moon has been critical of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) signed in November 2016, and called for “coolheaded judgment.”


The Asahi, commenting on the new president’s pro-North stance, stated, “It would be desirable for both interested parties on the Korean Peninsula to move forward with serious discussions,” but also warned that “Care should be taken to avoid any rash actions that could disrupt cooperation with Japan and the U.S., in a rush to enter discussions with North Korea.” In particular, the paper noted how Moon had been vague about the THAAD missile defense system deployed by the U.S. military in South Korea, which China is opposed to, and declared, “Taking an indecisive stance will be unacceptable as president.”/p>


The Mainichi stated, “Close cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea should be the basis when dealing with North Korea,” and indicated concerns that if the new administration was too hasty in its efforts for reconciliation with North Korea, “it would adversely affect its cooperation with Japan and the United States...” ” Regarding Moon’s intent to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Region, a joint project between the South and North which was cancelled during the Park administration, the paper warned that it “would run counter to the international trend of putting pressure on Pyongyang.”


The Nikkei, while bringing up President Trump’s comments on the possibility of a summit meeting with North Korea, indicated concerns about Moon’s pro-North policy: “If South Korea recklessly shifts to a policy of reconciliation despite the lack of any apparent way to make North Korea give up nuclear weapons development, it could severely disrupt international solidarity.” In particular, the paper noted Moon’s cautious stance towards the American military’s THAAD system, his desire to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Region, and his openness to holding summit meetings between the South and North, arguing that “Moon’s pro-North policy clearly runs counter to the solidarity the international community has been showing in forming a strong coalition against North Korea.”


The Sankei criticized Moon’s political and diplomatic stance: “Moon’s policy of reconciliation could damage cooperation between Japan, South Korea, and the U.S.” The paper also stated that reopening the Kaesong Industrial Region “would render the efforts of other nations (sanctions) meaningless,” as well as stating that his comments about reconsidering the THAAD deployment “could not be overlooked.”


■ Calling for Honoring the Agreement on Comfort Women


All five papers also questioned Moon’s stance of seeking to renegotiate the agreement on comfort women, and called for him to honor the agreement between the two countries.


The Asahi clearly stated, “This agreement was reached with both Japan and South Korea applying all their diplomatic wisdom, and making concessions to the other side…. There can be no discussion without recognizing and respecting this agreement.” The paper called for Moon to “make rational decisions based on a broad perspective” when it came to Japan-South Korea relations in general.


The Yomiuri declared that the reason there is dissatisfaction in Japan over Moon’s calls for renegotiations is “because South Korea has tried to repeal accords on historical issues,” and questioned “to what extent does Moon understand” there will be no renegotiation on the agreement that resolved the issue “finally and irreversibly.”


The Mainichi critically stated, “It is impermissible for the new president to unilaterally overturn any accord between nations.” In response to Moon’s claim that the agreement “does not reflect former comfort women's views,” the paper noted that “over 70 percent of these women have accepted a project to extend relief to them, which is incorporated in the pact.” The Mainichi also argued, “Political leaders in Japan and South Korea therefore have a responsibility to avoid a vicious circle of taking a tough stance and driving each other into a corner.”


The Sankei declared that if Moon annulled the “irreversible” agreement, “That would be the same as declaring to the world ‘South Korea does not keep its promises.’” Mentioning how Moon set foot on Takeshima in July 2016, and how he visited the comfort women statue in Busan in January 2017, the paper criticized, “Moon should refrain from carrying out any more obvious anti-Japanese performances.”


The Nikkei noted, “In the case the agreement was annulled, it would damage trust in Japan-South Korea relations, and cause a loss of trust in South Korea internationally,” and called for efforts to be made to remove the comfort women statues from in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul and the Japanese consulate-general in Busan. The paper also stated that if Moon “takes a hardline stance” towards historical issues, then “repairing Japan-South Korea relations will become even more difficult,” and called for the Japanese government to make efforts to ensure Moon visits Japan as soon as possible, and to “persistently explain the importance of building forward-looking relations.”



*English translations of The Yomiuri and The Mainichi are from The Japan News and The Mainichi, respectively. Those for The Asahi, The Nikkei and The Sankei are provisional. The content of this page was made by the Foreign Press Center Japan and does not reflect the opinion of the Japanese Government or any other organization.




Video Report: South Korean Presidential Election and Japan-ROK Relations (Mr. Hideki Okuzono, Associate Professor, University of Shizuoka)

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