Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering appointing Foreign Minister Taro Kono or Economy and Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko, who are both hardliners on South Korea, as defense minister when he reshuffles his cabinet tomorrow. Economic Revitalization Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who supports a right-wing group, is expected to replace Taro Kono as new foreign minister, according to Japanese media reports.
If Japanese media reports are true, the Japanese government is expected to take a harder line through the upcoming reshuffle. Current Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya has been relatively soft on South Korea. On the other hand, Foreign Minister Taro Kono has caused a stir many times with his disrespectful remarks, interrupting South Korean Ambassador’s speech and calling South Korea “disrespectful.” Economy Minister Hiroshige Seko became a powerful figure in the Abe administration by pushing ahead with the unreasonable export control measures. If one of them becomes the defense minister, Japan will likely to protest strongly against South Korea’s decision to scrap the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA).
It is doubtful if the Abe administration is willing to improve relations with South Korea now that it is considering appointing those hardliners, who were behind the worsened South Korea-Japan relations, to key positions. This is why people are skeptical about improving South Korea-Japan relations unless there is a change of the Japanese government. Under the circumstances, where the U.S.-China trade war intensifies and denuclearization of North Korea seems unlikely, the deepening rift between South Korea and Japan is a silly game that makes both of them losers. Both Seoul and Tokyo should find a diplomatic solution to resolve a conflict, taking the opportunity of the UN General Assembly in September and coronation ceremony of Japan’s Emperor Naruhito next month. The two countries should make a turning point in their relations before the GSOMIA ends in November.