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The first of his kind

Sept 21,2019
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YOON SEOL-YOUNG
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“He is smart and fast.” This is what people say when asked about new Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi. He studied at Harvard University and worked at McKinsey & Company. But he is short-tempered. It is an open secret that he throws ashtrays in the middle of briefings. In Korea and Japan alike, bosses who are strict about work are not popular.

In the cabinet reshuffle, the new foreign minister is getting a lot of attention. He entered politics with Japanese Prime Minister Abe and is very close to him. Also, foreign minister is a position that is considered to be a requirement to become prime minister. He did not show his ambition to succeed Abe. Yet he said he would see the scenery at the top of the mountain and decide.

Motegi’s performance began from his negotiation skills in the trade talks with the United States. He earned the nickname “tough negotiator” from U.S. President Donald Trump. Recently, he appeared on a television program and mentioned a JoongAng Ilbo article. He tried to erase the negative connotation by claiming that a tough negotiator has a very good meaning. “It means a great negotiator, not someone hard to talk to,” he said.

It takes knowledge in judo to understand his diplomatic view. Recently, he said that in judo skills, his style is more like standing techniques than floor techniques. He prefers winning with one full point. Rather than getting partial points with smaller skills, he says his style is to win a match with aggressive techniques like a throw.

He made a stark remark at the foreign minister transition ceremony. On his predecessor Taro Kono’s visits to 123 countries in two years, Motegi said he would engage in diplomacy that is memorable rather than leaving a record. He was apparently referring to his predecessor. His remarks seemed to show his determination to produce an outcome from negotiations with foreign countries.

Currently, pending issues are across all areas between Korea and Japan. The two countries are tangled in a history that cannot be coordinated easily. Each Korean person has complicated emotions toward Japan. If it were so easy to manage, the situation wouldn’t have escalated to this level. In a trade negotiation, there could be a full-point win, but that is not possible in diplomacy.

Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha will face Motegi for the first time at the UN General Assembly in New York next week. What technique will Motegi use on Korea? It is clear that he is a diplomatic counterpart that Korea has never seen before.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 20, Page 32