[REPORTER'S DIARY]United We Must Stand

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[REPORTER'S DIARY]United We Must Stand

"What is the Japanese government going to think about us?" That is what a government official said after the National Assembly's committee on unification, foreign affairs and trade failed to adopt a resolution on Wednesday to protest against Japan's refusal to correct distortions in some history textbooks.

What the National Assembly did and showed that day was enough to prove to the people that politicians are, after all, more interested in political power struggles than in formulating a foreign policy that, just for once, is unified across party lines.

Diplomatic relations between Korea and Japan are rapidly deteriorating and there seems to be no way out. Foreign policy analysts are pointing out that behind the deterioration in the relationship between Korea and Japan is a political reality that even in front of an "enemy line," a unified, coherant stand is impossible to achieve.

The political infighting is helping the Japanese government to push through with its one-sided policies on the conflicts relating to the history textbooks and fishing rights. Consideration for the plight of Korea is a secondary matter as far as the Japanese government is concerned, it seems.

A government official commented, "Diplomacy is an extension of domestic politics. If you cannot even put politics in order inside a country, it is only natural that your voice on the diplomatic front will be weakened. And the Japanese are probably taking advantage of that fact."

But the government is in no position to be sitting back and putting all the blame on the politicians. It has, for its own part, shown weaknesses on several occasions.

The first was in its initial response to the textbook issue. When the seriousness of the issue was already clear in April, the government continued to cling to the spirit of a new Korea-Japan "partnership" that President Kim Dae-jung's visit to Japan in 1998 seemed to herald. Korea was hesitant because it was hopeful that Japan would do at least the minimum necessary to preserve that spirit of partnership.

And it could not have looked good when the ambassador to Japan, Choi Sang-yong, was recalled in early April only to be told a few days later to return to his post.

We cannot help but wonder whether any of our responses could have been anything other than ineffective, because of the lack of a clear blueprint of measures needed, and because all our responses appeared to be patch jobs.

What is urgently needed, now that the Japanese government appears to have regressed to aggressive diplomacy 56 years after its unconditional surrender in World War II, is for the government to refurbish its diplomatic arsenal based on national consensus.

We did not want it to happen, but now that the relationship has sunk to these depths, we ask the government and our national representatives to renew and regroup to find a policy that works.

When faced with a government and a people that do not seem to fear the lessons of history, the last thing we can afford to do is to forget history ourselves.

The writer is a unification and foreign affairs reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo

by Lee Chul-hee

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