May 15, 2017
The Washington Post — Today’ s WorldView
South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, has taken office promising big changes. He’s promising to take on the country’s huge conglomerates and entrenched corruption, but he most notably wants to shift South Korea back to a more open stance toward Pyongyang. There are also indications that things may change vis-a-vis China and Japan, the two other big players in northeast Asia. So we asked Post Tokyo bureau chief Anna Fifield: Will South Korea’s posture toward North Korea and its other neighbors actually change?
“It already has changed. On his first day in office, Moon said that, in addition to going to Washington, he would ‘also visit Beijing and Tokyo and even Pyongyang under the right circumstances’ to help resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. This is a stark change from the previous administration.
“On China, former president Park Geun-hye did have good links with Beijing, even attending a big military parade on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. But relations soured sharply after she agreed to deploy an American missile defense battery, which Beijing worried would be used to spy on China using its radar. Moon has pledged to review that deployment.
“On North Korea, the previous administration had taken a hard-line, sanctions-based approach. But Moon has said he would be willing to talk to Kim Jong Un and resume engagement projects. Even after Sunday’s missile launch, Moon said dialogue was still possible — but only if North Korea shows a ‘change in attitude.’
“When it comes to Japan, already-rocky relations look set to deteriorate again. At the end of 2015, the South Korean and Japanese governments forged a ‘final and irreversible’ deal to settle historical issues over the ‘comfort women’ — South Korean women who had been used as sex slaves by the Japanese army during World War II. Tokyo is nervous that Moon will scrap the deal, as he has hinted. In his first phone call with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Moon said ‘a great majority of South Koreans have not accepted [the deal] emotionally.’
“Scrapping the deal would be a serious blow to broader relations, especially if the two countries hope to cooperate on North Korea. It’s worth noting, however, that Park never went to Tokyo during her tenure, while Moon offered to go on day one.”