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No time for internal discord

July 25,2019
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CHUN SU-JIN
The author is deputy editor of the international, diplomacy and security news at the JoongAng Ilbo.

On February 25, I ran into Kenji Kanasugi, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, at a hotel restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam. It was before the second North Korea-U.S. summit. As he was in the middle of a strategy meeting, a number of memos were handed over to him. He met with several officials and exchanged opinions. It looked like an efficient meeting to me. After meeting him, I sent him an email, and he responded that he hoped Korea-Japan relations would progress well. I asked a foreign ministry official — who respects Kanasugi the most — why he seemed so laid back. He said Kanasugi is competent, and he is not alone. He meant that the prime minister and all ministries support him as he is at the forefront of diplomacy for the North Korean nuclear issue.

Now that Korea-Japan relations are at their worst ever, how is our diplomacy? The foreign minister has long been the subject of criticism. Foreign ministry officials are stirred as changes may be coming. High-level Blue House officials even come to the Foreign Ministry to hold meetings as their meeting room is under construction.

When related ministries and agencies should share roles and have a unified voice, they compete, and check on one another, and focus on internal relations, not foreign relations. Will they repeat the history of national ruin as a result of diplomatic failure. How can they deal with Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Economic Ministry and the Foreign Ministry are all united?

The Japanese government explains that the new title Reiwa means “beautiful harmony.” In the first year of Reiwa, Korea-Japan relations are far from that. This is not the time to use energy on denouncing the Abe regime. It’s what they want. And the Japanese people gave them a landslide victory at the upper house election. What Korea needs now is not emotion but composure. It is a luxury to trust the sentiment of Admiral Yi Sun-shin who defended the country from Japan with 12 ships five centuries ago. I think 120,000 ships should be built instead. I welcome President Moon Jae-in’s remarks on July 18 that he does not have anti-Japanese sentiment.

Politicians often quote independence fighter Kim Gu’s words as they worry about the country. In “My Wishes,” he wrote, “When the family has discords, it gets ruined, and when a country is divided, it would go ruined.” According to Kim’s words, Korean diplomacy is ready to be “ruined” if you ask anyone. Let’s not waste energy on internal discord.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 24, Page 28