[GLOBAL EYE]Roh in Japan: go for small gainsIn a few days, President Roh will meet Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. This meeting is expected to be less tense than the one held a couple of weeks ago with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington. But President Roh should be prepared so that the meeting does not become burdensome.
The Korean government could not see eye-to-eye with its Japanese counterpart because of Seoul’s interest in engaging North Korea. But thanks to President Roh’s “over-compromising attitude” during his recent U.S. visit, a joint statement warning North Korea was announced. Because of that, there seem no longer to be causes of discord with Japan, which has called for “tougher measures” toward North Korea’s nuclear program together with the United States.
But that is in principle only. It remains to be seen if Washington and Tokyo can sing from the same hymnal when they try to decide on specific measures to put North Korea under pressure and when North Korea in turn takes desperate countermeasures. South Korea and Japan seem to have the same stance toward the North Korean nuclear problem only because they are both engaged in dialogue separately with the United States, the decisive actor.
In retrospect, there was no more useful country than North Korea as a spur and catharsis for Japan, which had been accustomed to a sense of crisis and powerlessness resulting from more than a decade of recession. North Korea shocked all of Japan by launching a missile over Japanese airspace. North Korea also enraged all of Japanese society by admitting its past kidnapping of Japanese citizens when the leaders of those two countries met last year. Moreover, North Korea is also making Japan tense by publicly acknowledging its nuclear developments, about which Japan had only circumstantial evidence and found it difficult to take any definite measures. Thanks to North Korea, Japan rid itself of many unresolved problems all at once: it launched a spy satellite and passed legislation that set up a mobilization system in case of war. Both steps were like having an aching tooth pulled.
President Roh is to meet Mr. Koizumi in this atmosphere. Except for an agreement in principle on the nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, there will be no other special issues to be addressed at the summit. If the two leaders were to strain to come up with specific measures, it would probably do more harm than good.
But there is one thing that our president should carefully prepare himself for: the problem of history. This does not mean that he should reopen the age-old controversies over Japanese wrongdoings in history or try to distinguish right from wrong. It would be difficult to expect Japan to apologize for past wrongdoings to our satisfaction. The issue has been outstanding for more than half a century, and Japan finds it hard to acknowledge its wrongdoings although it understands it should. This is why Japan is not regarded as a politically large country despite its large economy. For the same reason, Japan’s effort to modernize its military is seen as an attempt to make Japanese society “rightist.” All these are, ultimately, the limitations of Japan.
It will not be easy to discuss all the urgent problems of security and the old matters of history at one time. Even so, President Roh should not shy away from the old problems. In the long term, keeping silent would not be beneficial to both countries. Therefore, Mr. Roh should emphasize, in a refined manner, the importance of resolving the problem of history, pointing out statistics that say even if they are familiar with Japanese culture, Korean youths are no less angry with Japan than are their seniors. This is the way to bring benefits to both countries eventually. Also, if President Roh can say to Mr. Koizumi, “Only when both countries have the same interpretation of history and are freed from the fetters of the past can we have future-oriented relations,” that would also do good for Japan.
And if the two leaders could declare the start of “shuttle diplomacy” in which they could meet anywhere and any time to enunciate their positions, that would bring the best results to reconfirm the special relationship of the two countries.
President Roh should pay special attention to each word he selects so that he does not ruin the summit talks. The Japanese media lay great weight on every word and every action of the Korean leader. This is so even if they are familiar with his reputation for being a straight-talking man.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kil Jeong-woo