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No time for an emotional fight

Nov 26,2019
As soon as Korea suspended the scheduled termination of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan on Saturday, an emotional battle began between the two neighbors.

In a press briefing on Sunday, National Security Director Chung Eui-yong and Senior Presidential Secretary for Public Communication Yoon Do-han both attacked Japan. On condition of anonymity, a senior official denounced Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his remarks that Japan made no concession to Korea this time. “I cannot but ask if Abe really made the remarks with conscience,” he fumed. Chung even said, “Try me!” criticizing Tokyo for breaking the basic principle of trust in diplomacy. Chung went on to lambaste Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry for “intentionally distorting or overstating an agreement.”

There is no problem with Seoul criticizing Tokyo for its different interpretation of the announcement. But we wonder why our top officials splashed cold water on the clash with emotional rhetoric instead of calmly dealing with it. It is not the time to find fault with one another but the time to focus on continuing dialogue and negotiation to restore mutual trust.

Chung’s self-praise of “the victory of President Moon Jae-in’s diplomacy based on principle and embrace” is also hard to understand. The decision to suspend a scrapping of the military pact was made by Seoul. Both sides must not waste time insisting on which side won in the diplomatic confrontation. If Seoul insists on such a kind of attack against Tokyo, it could simply be aimed at trying to avoid the responsibility for its diplomatic blunder or feigning a victory no one would agree to.

Japan also must take responsibility for the exacerbation of the situation. Tokyo should not pat itself on the back because it is also accountable for Seoul’s decision to sever Gsomia in the beginning: Japan imposed export restrictions on Korea for the Korean Supreme Court’s rulings on forced wartime labor, which fueled anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea. If Tokyo defines it as a “perfect game,” will it really help create a friendly atmosphere for further dialogue and a summit between Moon and Abe?

The two countries have managed to avoid a catastrophe in their relations. They must approach the issue prudently and sincerely rather than trying to fuel conflicts by jumping on the bandwagon of public sentiment. If the two governments have really failed to learn lessons from the battle, their future will be even darker.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 26, Page 34