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Mending fences

May 10,2019
The Korean Embassy in Japan played a part in further worsening Seoul-Tokyo relations. The embassy has been criticized for a noticeable decrease in conversations with Japan’s major politicians and diplomats over the last two years. The embassy is also under attack for helping the Moon Jae-in administration make misjudgments in dealing with Japan by failing to report to the Blue House and the Foreign Ministry about the Shinzo Abe government’s hard-line positions toward South Korea.

Diplomatic observers say that senior diplomats at the Korean Embassy attributed the deterioration of ties to Tokyo whenever they met with Japanese politicians, officials and diplomats. That helped spike hostilities from Tokyo. If that is true, that is a serious problem because the embassy contributed to worsening the ties instead of helping to repair them.

Under such grim circumstances, Nam Gwan-pyo began to serve as new ambassador to Japan from Thursday. Nam, a close aide to President Moon, served as a deputy director at the National Security Office in the Blue House after having served as an official in the Roh Moo-hyun administration. He therefore has the responsibility to frankly describe the atmosphere in Japan to the president and straightforwardly advise him on rational ways to improve the estranged ties.

Noting the new ambassador’s career at the Blue House, the Japanese government and media are expressing hopes for a better future. If he chooses to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Seoul-Tokyo relations could cross a point of no return.

Fortunately, in a press conference before leaving Seoul, the new ambassador expressed the will to reinforce communications with Japan, calmly deal with disputes over history, and improve ties through a future-oriented approach. We welcome such an attitude. He must prove it through actions, including a straightforward report to his boss in Seoul. At the same time, he must build as many local connections as possible to strengthen our diplomacy with Japan.

China’s ambassador to Japan, Cheng Yonghua, did his best to resolve the two countries’ challenges before leaving Tokyo after nine years and two months in service. Thanks to Cheng’s efforts, Beijing-Tokyo relations could avoid a rupture. He played a key role in holding China-Japan summits in Beijing and Tokyo last year. In a farewell party hosted by Abe on Tuesday, 1,000 guests praised him for his devotion to improving bilateral ties. We urge Nam to do his best just as Cheng did.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 10, Page 34