[OUTLOOK]Government Is Throwing Wild Punches

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[OUTLOOK]Government Is Throwing Wild Punches

It seems like our government will soon pick a fight with Japan. Although the Japanese press is also reporting the current atmosphere in Korea heatedly, it is only us who are excessively agitated.

We say we responded as calmly as we could. In retrospect, however, this situation was already expected in April, or even as early as the second half of last year, according to a Korean government official in Japan. In other words, it was expected that Japan would not make any further moves on the history textbook issue.

The rather limited number of Japanese people who are concerned with the textbook issue are divided into two groups. A small number of Japanese who are interested in the issue are satisfied that they have succeeded in making corrections on the matter to a certain extent, while others blame themselves for their limited national capacity, which resulted in writing the distorted history.

I am worried that the above interpretation could even be a distorted view of the Japanese people. At a bookstore in Tokyo, volumes on the new cabinet's reform policies and the political philosophy of the new prime minister are piled up high as if they are demonstrating the popularity of the Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who recorded an approval rating of more than 80 percent. Although the disputed Japanese history textbooks have been placed next to those political books, opinions countering the textbooks are ignored and pushed away into a corner.

The slogans that have emerged once again in Japanese society such as "Let's change!" or "Let's rediscover our pride!" are rousing the Japanese along with the "new" textbooks. It appears as if the Japanese are thinking that they should boost their morale themselves to pull the nation out of its decade-long economic slump. It is natural in some sense that the issues regarding the textbook revisions are being ignored even though Japan's neighbors continue to push for corrections of distorted historical descriptions.

Although what had been expected has in fact happened, it is still hard to find Korean specialists on Japan among those who have spoken their view on the issue whom I consider as genuinely understanding the situation. Is it because they know so much about Japan that they will not change even though we inform them of the truth? Or, is it because they know that the Korean government, which is engrossed in the issue to the point, it seems, of severing relations with Japan, will gradually ease its stance as time pass?

This is not the right time for the Korean government to roar at Japan, when President Kim Dae-jung's administration has just one and a half more years until its term ends. If our diplomatic officials truly understand the current situation in Japan, they should not expect that there will not be much change in the domestic atmosphere of Japan even after the House of Councilors election, which is scheduled at the end of this month.

Did not an influential power broker of the Liberal Democratic Party reportedly say, "Koizumi, why don't you take the prime minister post this time? If that doesn't work, we'll put up Ishihara as a relief pitcher."

Seeing what the situation really is, the Korean government should find ways to truly "scare" Japan and stop speaking hard words to the public. Reasonable and powerful logic and strategies that can be employed in dealing not only with Japan, but also with East Asian neighbors and the whole world, are desperately needed.

That does not necessarily mean that I approve of the government's rejection of Prime Minister Koizumi's signed letter and the boycott of the foreign affair ministers' talks at the ASEAN forum. If we have clear and understandable logic behind our position, then we should meet Japanese officials to talk over the issues. That is a mature attitude.

President Kim is thought to have contributed a great deal in opening ways to improve relations between the two countries after he visited Japan in October, 1998. But, he lost an opportunity to show the Japanese public how much he was aggrieved over the issue when he received the Japanese representatives.

Although some people demand that the government produce viable solutions to the issue, it is in fact not easy for Seoul to come up with effective plans. However, I think it is better to gather Japanese specialists, who have been unwilling to speak out, and plan new moves whether than struggling with the problem without direction.

We call on the government to find plans to wake Japan, but not violate its dignity. And at the same time the plans should not ruin relations between the two countries, but should show off our mature diplomatic skills to the world. The current diplomatic maneuver toward Japan could be a desperate move, but it could ultimately hurt bilateral relations.

What kind of nation is Japan to us? We should take this as a good opportunity to think over this question and use the wisdom of Japan specialists to draw a big picture for the future.


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The writer is a roving correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kil Jeong-woo

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