[EDITORIALS]Government Fecklessness on Japan

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[EDITORIALS]Government Fecklessness on Japan

The Japanese media all reported Saturday that Russia and Japan had tentatively agreed to prohibit fishing in the waters around the Southern Kuril Islands by third countries such as Korea beginning next year. The report said Korea would no longer be able to fish in the waters, which account for one third of Korea's annual saury catch. The government has not confirmed the facts and simply makes pitiful plaints that it cannot be possible. Words fail us before the government's inaction. Already, public sentiment is simmering because the government quietly backed down from earlier staunch positions on the history textbook issue. It had seemed ready to do something drastic to correct the situation; then it acceded to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's request for a Seoul visit.

Japan and Russia dispute ownership of the waters surrounding the Southern Kuril Islands, but Russia exercises practical management rights, and Korea has paid fishing fees to Russia for rights to fish in the waters. Since 1999, Korea's catch there amounted to an annual 15,000 tons of saury. Japan has taken issue with this and has not issued a permit for saury fishing by Korean fishermen off the coast of Sanriku in Japan, clearly breaking the two countries' fishing treaty. Yet, the South Korean government utters not a word. The government has been absent-minded, unaware of what was being worked out between Japan and Russia, and now we may even lose fishing rights in the Kuril waters. Whom then should the fishermen trust? The government should have exercised its negotiating capability with Russia in preparation for the possibility that Japan might pursue its Kuril claims by prohibiting third countries from fishing in those waters, even by pumping in money. We could have at least averted the unpleasant surprise, as if being unexpectedly raided at night.

We are not interested in the territorial dispute between Russia and Japan. Just as shrimps' backs are broken in a whale fight, we are incurring the damage. It is for such occasions that government exists. If the agreement between Russia and Japan is found to be true, the government should resort to all diplomatic means to gain access to alternative fishing waters from Japan.
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