[EDITORIALS]Mr. Roh’s inappropriate letterPresident Roh Moo-hyun’s open letter to the people under the headline “With Regard to Recent Korea-Japan Relations,” which was published in a Blue House news bulletin and on the Internet, was inappropriate in many ways. First of all, its content and its choice of words were strong enough to cause a misunderstanding. It could provoke Japan’s government and its people, and could pour fuel on the anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea that is already burning because of the issues of Dokdo and the Japanese history textbooks. This is the time for the government to appeal for calm, reasonable behavior from the people. But instead, the government is leading the people in calling for stronger measures against Japan. What has gone wrong?
President Roh’s letter pointed out that Japan’s Shimane prefecture declared “Takeshima Day” “to justify Japan’s past invasion and to deny the liberation of Korea.” On the textbook issue, he criticized Japan for trying to “justify its history of invasion.” These actions, he said, are “taking place while Japan’s ruling forces and central government help from behind the scenes.”
Such assertions can be made by media outlets, or by civic groups. If the government is to make such points, the appropriate cabinet member can do so. A direct statement from the president is in another category altogether, diplomatically and politically. The president is the final decision-maker in diplomatic matters. If he comes to the foreground, the statement carries far more weight and becomes hard to reverse.
Diplomacy should leave both parties room for negotiation by way of metaphor and ambiguity. Criticizing Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi by saying “I can’t tolerate him any more” and “I will root it out this time” sounds like a demand for unconditional surrender. The passage “There will be many situations I will confront without hiding my anger,” and the one in which Mr. Roh expressed determination not to evade full-blown diplomatic war, were also inappropriate. Dragging Korea-Japan relations down to their worst, as this does, will not help solve the problem. It will have the immediate effect of winning emotional public support, but in the long run, it will be a burden to the country and the president.
In the same letter, Mr. Roh writes, “We have to make decisions with discretion, and speak and act as slowly as necessary.” That is correct. The president should stay in the background.