SEOUL: South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said it is very important to have cooperation between South Korea, the United States and Japan, but he does not believe a militarily stronger Japan is needed to help address the tension on the Korean Peninsula.
"For South Korea, in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missiles provocations, in addition to the cooperation with the US, such cooperation with Japan has also become very important," President Moon said in an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia at the Presidential Blue House on Friday (Nov 3).
"However, the reason for the enhanced trilateral cooperation between South Korea, US and Japan is to respond to the North’s provocations and I don't believe that it is desirable to develop the trilateral cooperation into a military alliance."
Having a strong military in Japan was one of the key points during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's election campaign, during which he and his ruling coalition won a decisive victory. He said the outcome of his victory showed the Japanese people’s support for a stronger military and a hardline policy on North Korea.
But there are concerns in South Korea about a militarily stronger Japan as many people, especially the elderly, still harbour negative sentiment toward Japan for its harsh colonial rule over Korea in the first half of the twentieth century.
TRUMP'S VISIT 'A STRONG MESSAGE' TO THE NORTH
During the interview, President Moon also talked about US President Donald Trump’s visit to South Korea next week, saying that the visit would send a very strong message to North Korea.
"Under the current situation, President Trump's visit to South Korea and his messages will assure the Korean people, while having an effect of easing the tensions on the Korean Peninsula. And I hope that this will be a vital moment in dealing with the North Korean nuclear problem," Mr Moon said.
He also explained the importance of close ties between the two countries, saying they agreed on how to deal with Pyongyang.
"For (South) Korea, the alliance with the US is more important than anything in safeguarding our security. In particular, cooperation between Korea and the US is essential to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue," he said. "Therefore, we need to maintain the traditional stance of laying great importance on the bilateral relations with the US."
RECENT AGREEMENT WITH CHINA 'MEANINGFUL'
Touching on South Korea’s relationship with China, Mr Moon said the recent agreement with Beijing to mend ties was very meaningful, and that he hopes the relationship will normalise soon.
Links were strained between the two countries over the deployment of the controversial US advanced missile defence system THAAD. South Korea had agreed to the deployment of THAAD despite opposition from China and Russia.
South Korea's tourism, cosmetics and entertainment businesses were badly hurt due to a backlash from China over the dispute. China is South Korea’s biggest trading partner.
Mr Moon spoke in more detail about links with Beijing.
"The relationship with China has become more important not only in terms of economic cooperation, but also for strategic cooperation for the peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue. That is why I am pursuing a balanced diplomacy with the US as well as China."
And he said China was doing its part to help resolve the nuclear issue.
"I believe that China is making sincere efforts to implement the recent United Nations Security Council sanctions resolution, even though the resolution was quite strong and a substantial part of the sanctions were to be carried out by China," he said.
"That is very helpful in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, in my view. We need China to continue to sincerely implement such Security Council resolutions going forward. In that regard, Korea will closely cooperate with China and make joint efforts to bring North Korea back to the negotiation table."
Catch the full interview with President Moon Jae-in on Conversation With on Thursday Nov 9 at 8:30pm (SIN/HK).