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Cold judgment needed

Jan 18,2020
SEO SEUNG-WOOK
The author is Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“President Moon Jae-in is a gentleman with a kind attitude. I think it would be nice to make a relationship and meet more often,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in December. His words caused a stir in Korea. The interview was aired on BS TV Tokyo on December 29, 2019. After obtaining transcripts of the interview, I found that he discussed Korea for about four minutes during the hour-long interview.

It was three days after the first formal summit meeting in 15 months between President Moon Jae-in and Abe. But his attitude did not change from before. On the wartime forced labor issue, he said that relationships between countries cannot be established if a promise is not kept. When the host asked what he thought about President Moon, Abe reluctantly complimented him — briefly.

But in Korea, people made a fuss that Abe’s attitude drastically changed after the summit. I blushed when my Japanese friend asked me why Abe’s remarks made news in Korea.

A similar thing happened about ten days before the summit as well. It began with Abe’s comment at a lecture hosted by Jiji Press. “On Christmas Eve, I will attend a Japan-China-Korea summit and also meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, as well as with President Moon.” In the 60-minute lecture, it was the only mention of Korea.

Korea was stirred as “Abe snatched the announcement of the summit that should be made at the same time with Korea” and “Abe intended to restore his falling approval rating due to various scandals by promoting his summit with Moon as a diplomatic achievement.” However, Japan was quiet. If he intended to publicize the meeting as a diplomatic accomplishment, it should be treated as an important event at least by a few “absolute allies.” But nearly no newspaper highlighted the meeting with Moon on Christmas Eve in its report. The 1998 Kim Dae-jung-Obuchi Declaration — which is considered a significant event in Korea-Japan relations” — contains an expression “sincere repentance and heartfelt apology.”

Abe, who was elected for his first term in 1993, complained that if a written apology was given again on an issue that was completed by a treaty, Japan would have to repeat it every time a new president was elected in Korea. Abe strongly believes that the Korea-Japan issues were already fixed by the basic treaty and claims agreement in 1965. To deal with someone with such conviction, you need cold judgment and thorough negotiating tactics. If you are easily upset and easily pleased, you will get blindsided.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 17, Page 28