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Point of no return

July 16,2019
Senior officials in the Moon Jae-in administration are showing dangerously emotional reactions to Japan’s economic retaliation for the Korean Supreme Court’s rulings ordering compensation by Japanese companies for Korean workers forced into labor during World War II. When Choi Jae-sung — chairman of a special committee to deal with Japan’s export ban on key three materials needed to produce semiconductors and displays in Korea — stressed the need to “recruit civilian rebels” to counter Japan’s retaliation, we brushed it off as a personal grudge.

But anti-Japanese comments are spreading out of control. Cho Kuk, President Moon’s senior secretary for civil affairs, on Saturday posted a YouTube link to a song popular during the democracy movement against the military regime in the 1980s on Facebook. A day earlier, Moon reminded citizens of South Jeolla of their proud history and how their ancestors helped Admiral Yi Sun-sin drive out Japanese invaders. Kim Hyun-chong, deputy National Security Adviser, joined the chorus by underscoring the need for the people to unite and overcome the crisis as Koreans did in the past.

But they went too far, even if they represent the deepening public dissatisfaction with Tokyo’s export curbs. We are increasingly concerned about the government’s emotional — not rational — approach. Aren’t these senior officials the very same people who must come up with a strategy to weather this crisis?

Even an opposition lawmaker famous for his pro-Moon approach criticized such rhetoric as “unfit for strategists on the frontline.” The government’s emotional reaction affects the public. If the discord cannot be resolved by diplomacy, all hope is lost. A campaign to boycott Japanese products is spreading fast in Korea and covering nearly all types of Japanese food and beverages. An association of small merchants and owners of mom and pop stores declared their boycott of Japanese products in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

If the government sticks to its emotional approach, it will incite the public and deepen anti-Korean sentiments in Japan. Rep. Park Jie-won, a former chief of staff to the late president Kim Dae-jung, wrote on Facebook that his boss would not have invited such a crisis as he believed in the power of diplomacy to protect our national interests.

The government must think strategically to find diplomatic options Tokyo can accept as soon as possible. If it doesn’t, it will have crossed the point of no return.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 16, Page 30