TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Directing all his effort towards bolstering a cooperative relationship with North Korea, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has left the deterioration of relations with Japan unaddressed.
Moon has been pushing ahead with biased diplomacy based on ethnic nationalism.
This needs to be watched cautiously.
Friday marked the 100th anniversary of the March First Independence Movement against Japanese colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
In delivering a speech at a commemorative ceremony, Moon said, "Wiping out the vestiges of pro-Japanese collaborators is a long-overdue undertaking."
"Pro-Japanese" refers to Koreans who actively collaborated in Japan's colonial rule.
The term was used to censure former South Korean President Park Chung-hee, who forced through the normalisation of Japan-South Korea relations in 1965.
Leftist Moon seems to be trying to contain conservative elements who have come after Park by labeling them as "vestiges of pro-Japanese collaborators."
It is feared that Moon's rhetoric will deepen domestic division and help foment anti-Japan sentiment.
Moon emphasised that South Korea and Japan "will become genuine friends with heart-to-heart understanding when the pain of victims is substantively healed through concerted efforts."
It is obvious that Moon said this with former Korean requisitioned workers and former so-called comfort women in mind.
Japan and South Korea had made efforts to resolve issues related to Japan's colonial rule by concluding the treaty on normalisation of the bilateral relations and hammering out agreements on the settlement of problems on property, claims and economic cooperation as well as on the issue of comfort women.
As long as Moon denies these past achievements and sticks to the "settlement" of issues related to colonial rule, it will be impossible to establish the future-oriented bilateral relationship that he himself calls for.
Recent moves by Japan and South Korea illustrate this point.
Ruling on a lawsuit filed by former requisitioned workers, South Korea's top court ordered a Japanese firm to pay compensation.
The speaker of the South Korean National Assembly called the Emperor "the son of a war criminal" and called for him to apologise to former comfort women.
Japan protested strongly and urged Seoul to work out measures to deal with these matters.
Despite that, Moon has yet to take action in response to Japanese demands.
His stance of calling for Japan's cooperation while leaving the deteriorating bilateral relationship unaddressed lacks convincing force.
Japan has no alternative but to formulate its diplomatic strategy on the premise that the mending of Japan-South Korea relations will not move forward for the time being.
While avoiding emotional exchanges of criticism, Japan should resolutely continue to advance its assertions of its legitimate claims based on international law.
During his speech, Moon also said that South Korea and North Korea "will work together to create a new order of peace and cooperation."
Thus he emphasised ethnic unity with the North.
He also expressed enthusiasm toward the resumption of an inter-Korean economic cooperation project at the Kaesong industrial complex and tourism at Mount Kumgang, both in North Korea.
The latest U.S.-North Korea summit talks have just ended unsatisfactorily as differences over the process toward realisation of the North's denuclearisation could not be bridged.
Looking squarely at the reality that it has become difficult to carry out the inter-Korean projects, which would amount to effectively easing sanctions against the North, it is advisable for Moon to reexamine its policy regarding Pyongyang.
The Yomiuri Shimbun is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.