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Growing isolation (KOR)

Jan 31,2019
The tension between Seoul and Tokyo over Korean court rulings on Japanese sex slavery and compensation for forced laborers during World War II has reached an alarming level. The conflict over a Japanese patrol plane’s threatening flight and a South Korean destroyer’s alleged aiming its radar at an approaching Japanese aircraft are fueling the discord — yet no exit ramp is in sight. Despite this, our Foreign Ministry is doing nothing to address the dangerous developments.

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha paid tribute to Kim Bok-dong, 93, a former sex slave to the Japanese Imperial Army during the war. At the funeral, Kang expressed regrets about her painful life on the battlefields. In a trip to her funeral a day before, President Moon Jae-in said he was deeply saddened to see her go. Kang and Moon share the same view, that the sex slave issue is not yet resolved.

To make matters worse, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family canceled earlier approval for establishing a reconciliation and healing foundation for the victims. The government will soon dismantle the foundation. But the government has not yet decided what to do with the remaining 6 billion won ($5.37 million), a leftover from the 1 billion yen ($9.15 million) donated by Tokyo to set up the foundation. Even four months after Moon notified Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of the plan to scrap it, the government has not taken follow-up measures.

The Moon administration also dilly-dallies on the Supreme Court’s ruling on compensation for forced laborers during the war. It has yet to answer Japan’s request for diplomatic consultations over the issue. Critics are attacking Korea for breaking a diplomatic agreement. The standoff over the tense moments at sea is no exception. Though one took place accidently in the course of our destroyer trying to rescue a North Korean fishing boat, both sides can hardly find a solution. Instead, our government is poised to fuel anti-Japanese sentiments on the March 1 Liberation Day.

Primary responsibility for the past falls on Japan. At the same time, both sides have a duty to heal historical scars and move on to cope with the present day problems like the nuclear threat from North Korea. Yet our government seems to be rubbing salt into wounds rather than trying to heal them.

If our relations with Japan worsen, we risk becoming isolated. Maintaining friendly ties with allies is very important. The government must settle the conflict over history before it is too late.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 31, Page 30