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A delicate balance

Dec 28,2017
The government has released the results of a task force’s five-month re-examination of the 2015 agreement between Seoul and Tokyo on the resolution of diplomatic disputes over the thorny sex slave issue. The hurried process to settle the issue had some critical mistakes, including disrespect for the victims, the task force concluded.

We are disappointed that the Park Geun-hye administration did not fully explain the deal to the surviving victims. Why did the government rush to close a decades-old dispute?

Another mystery centers on the lead-up to the description of an “irreversible settlement.” Our Foreign Ministry insisted on “irreversible apology” from the start. But it ended up with an “irreversible resolution.” The government must find out why the deal took such a puzzling turn two years ago.

At the same time, however, we can hardly see what was wrong with the Park administration’s decision to leave some sensitive parts of the agreement off the record and to resolve the issue through high-level talks. Diplomacy is basically a give-and-take business. One side can make concessions if it wants to achieve tangible diplomatic results.

Despite the task force’s criticisms, an inter-governmental agreement does not pertain to the realm of foreign ministries alone. Therefore, the task force can hardly criticize a deal saying that it was struck between President Park’s Chief of Staff Lee Byung-kee and Japan’s National Security Advisor Shotaro Yachi.

A bigger problem is that our Foreign Ministry broke a diplomatic taboo. The task force has exposed a diplomatic deal that should have been kept a secret for 30 years. That will cause a big burden for not only the Moon administration but also our future governments. What country would make a secret deal with Korea in the future if this is what it can expect?

After the leaks about the deal, our relations with Japan will surely be damaged. To make matters worse, if the Moon administration attempts to scrap the agreement citing those problems and our people’s sentiments, relations could be gravely damaged. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly called for sincere implementation of the agreement on Seoul’s part.

We need cooperation with the Abe government to jointly cope with the deepening North Korean nuclear threat. The Moon administration must minimize the repercussions of the re-examination even while trying to come to terms with the pain of the victims. It must find a balance.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 28, Page 34