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The $500-million question

Feb 25,2019
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이미지뷰
Ruling Party lawmaker Lee Soo-hyuck, a senior member of the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, talks with Joel Wit, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center and director of 38 North, at a seminar at the National Assembly last Tuesday. After U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial remarks about South Korea’s defense cost-sharing, Rep. Lee asked why our citizens needed to know the exact amount. [YONHAP]
Kim Hyun-ki
The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

In the first half of 2007, Japan officially spent $450,000 lobbying in Washington. The move was to prevent a bill denouncing the Japanese Imperial Army’s sexual exploitation of Korean women from being introduced in the U.S. Congress. The amount actually spent was a lot more. The lobbying effort was led by Japanese-American Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye, and the main target was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But Pelosi refused it as 164 representatives signed in support of the bill. She urged Abe to apologize for the atrocity during World War II.

I bring up this episode from 12 years ago because of the argument between National Assembly speaker Moon Hee-sang and Pelosi two weeks ago during his trip to Washington. On Moon’s remarks urging the Japanese emperor to apologize to resolve the comfort women issue, Pelosi said she was worried about aggravating Korea-Japan relations. She hoped the issue would be resolved soon. It was a euphemistic expression reflecting Washington’s cold view of the South Korean government’s breaking of the comfort women deal between Seoul and Tokyo under the Park Geun-hye administration.

Moon, who was speaker at the time, said in a meeting with correspondents that Pelosi’s remarks felt intentional. He jokingly raised the possibility of Japan influencing her to say something to Korea. Pelosi was disparaged as a politician influenced by Japan’s lobby. Speaker Moon shouldn’t have said that about Pelosi, who resisted Japan’s lobby and passed the comfort women resolution, even if he didn’t hear what he wanted. Records and emotions remain. I am speechless as Moon rated his visit as “A++.”

There is something else that Korea should ask the United States. In a recent cabinet meeting, President Trump said he made a couple of phone calls, and Korea agreed to pay $500 million more for defense cost-sharing. He also said that when he asked why it wasn’t raised before, Seoul responded that no one had asked. The Korean media doesn’t seem to find Trump’s words credible. The Foreign Ministry obviously doesn’t want to escalate the situation and is directing inquiries to the United States.

Should this be asked to the United States, or is there any reason to? The person Trump talked to on the phone must have been be President Moon Jae-in. In principle, President Moon should have asked Trump and clarified that such phone calls were not made.

Trump will repeat it again. John Mearsheimer wrote in “Why Leaders Lie” that sometimes leaders have justifiable reasons to lie if it is in the national interest. Let’s say Trump lied for the interests of the United States. Yet it is different for Korea. Korea has its own interests, and it is a matter of taxpayer money. Ruling party lawmaker Lee Soo-hyuck asked why the citizens needed to know the exact amount. But people are not so stupid.

Media reported that Trump demanded $1.2 billion for defense cost sharing at the Korea-U.S. summit in November. President Moon said Trump did not mention conditions or an amount, and that such a report could be an insult to him. Some words should not be spoken, but other words should be.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 20, Page 30