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Diplomacy with Japan is needed

July 17,2019
SEO SEUNG-WOOK
The author is the Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Out partner for a diplomatic resolution may not be Japan. Probably not,” said a government official.

On Japan’s export restrictions, President Moon Jae-in said that the government would calmly make efforts to settle the trade dispute diplomatically as cycles of action and retaliation are hardly desirable. I naturally assumed that he meant a diplomatic resolution with Japan. So I asked and was told that the partner for a diplomatic resolution may not be Japan.

In fact, the government moved toward the United States, not Japan. Foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha called U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to talk about the dispute. I find it very hard to believe. That’s not all. Blue House Deputy Director for National Security Kim Hyun-chong visited the United States to seek support from Washington. While the situation was pressing for Korea, U.S. Ambassador to Korea Harry Harris said that it was not yet the time for America to intervene and David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said that there was no plan to mediate.

Perhaps, the United States is likely to consider the Korea-Japan comfort women agreement in 2015 as a notable case of failed mediation. Former U.S. President Barack Obama visited Seoul after Tokyo in 2014 and said that the women were raped in a shocking way. It was a terrible human rights violation, he added. In 2015, the U.S. Department of State urged the two countries to make an agreement.

However, the agreement fizzled out in the end. Saying that Obama had a high regard for the agreement, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is framing Korea as a country that does not keep its promises. Given his remarks that his best diplomatic accomplishment is being best friends with U.S. President Donald Trump, it is not impossible that Abe already tipped Trump off about the export ban. A recent Mainichi Shimbun column read, “The United States is a contradictory country that violated an international agreement by unilaterally increasing tariffs and yet it is condoned because of its superpower status.” It is strange that Korea is asking the United States to mediate on export restrictions.

Most of all, Moon’s diplomatic efforts should not only be directed to the United States. Export restrictions are a bad idea, but the Korean government should also repent neglecting diplomacy with Japan for eight months after the Supreme Court’s ruling on forced wartime labor. Awaking from the eight-month-long silence, we should more actively talk with Japan. Only then will the international community listen to our voice.

JoongAng Ilbo, , July 16, Page 28