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Premature press briefing

Jan 12,2018
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One of the most impressive scenes at President Moon Jae-in’s New Year’s press conference on Jan. 10 was the free question-and-answer session with reporters. The administration emphasizes free communication, and the press conference was the epitome of this spirit.

However, the statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha the previous day on the government’s handling of the “comfort women” agreement between the Park Geun-hye administration and Japan’s Shinzo Abe government was different. Kang read the statement for less than five minutes and left the briefing room. The Foreign Ministry notified press earlier that day that Kang would not take questions.

It was at 7 p.m. on Jan. 8 that the Foreign Ministry notified press that the government’s stance would be announced. It came 13 days after a task force re-examining the comfort women agreement was publicized. It was earlier than expected as the task force that worked on the issue for 150 days pointed out that the biggest flaw was a lack of consideration for the victims. Kang had said that her Foreign Ministry’s policies would be carefully drafted by gathering the opinions of the victims, related groups and experts.

When reporters asked why Kang would not take questions, the ministry explained that the statement would be a refined one. Specifically, the ministry said it is a diplomatic issue involving another country and that the ministry would need to continuously contact the victims. It was similar to the situation when the task force made confidential negotiation contents public for “citizens’ right to know.” The Foreign Ministry changes its stance for different cases.

Kang said she would not seek a renegotiation, but Korea expected Japan to take voluntary follow-up actions. The 1 billion yen ($8.94 million) from the Japanese government will be covered by the government budget, and Seoul will discuss with Tokyo how the money will be handled. She said, “The opinions of the victims, related groups and citizens will be widely collected.” Then Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Kono said, “I want to hear Korea’s explanation and understand what Korea means by using its budget for the fund.”

Kang’s statement was ambiguous. Some speculate that the Foreign Ministry issued the statement before the president’s New Year’s press conference to lessen the burden for Moon in case he received questions on the matter. As Kang dealt with human rights issues at the United Nations, the comfort women issue is her signature field. But she gave a premature statement and did not take questions. I cannot shake off doubt that the statement was rushed.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 11, Page 29

*The author is a political news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

PARK YU-MI