[EDITORIALS]An undiplomatic exchangeThe conflict between Japan and Korea is becoming ever more serious. The dispute, which last weekend seemed to have come to a lull when both heads of state expressed their willingness to meet, has now gotten so aggravated that it’s difficult to see where it’s headed. The focus of the conflict now seems to be between the countries’ foreign ministers.
The ministers are bickering over whether or not President Roh Moo-hyun alluded to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni shrine. Japanese Foreign Minister Machimura Nobutaka said, “It is regrettable that it was announced [in the form of a letter to the people], though there was no mention on the topic at the summit meeting.” Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon immediately responded, “Mr. Nobutaka’s remark is not based on facts.” The spokesman of Korea’s Foreign Ministry also criticized Japan’s foreign minister, saying, “It was not appropriate to use such words on the basis of an informal dialogue between the two heads of state.”
In the past, the diplomatic channels between Korea and Japan have resolved the tensions created by the occasional absurd remark from a Japanese politician. But we have now reached the stage where the officials who make up those diplomatic channels have turned upon each other, which is unprecedented in the 40 years of Korea-Japan diplomacy. This is a truly worrisome situation.
A diplomat’s basic duty is to advance the national interest. Diplomats can play the role of a hawk if it is in the national interest. But another important role is the resolution of conflicts. The degree of refinement a diplomat brings to problem-solving sometimes serves as a barometer for gauging his ability. In this regard, it is unfortunately true that the oversensitivity displayed in this instance by diplomats on both sides was not diplomatic at all. Now they must return to reason, and show a dauntless dedication to resolving the conflict, whatever the cost.
One analysis has it that the Japanese minister’s remark was meant as a response to Unification Minister Chung Dong-young’s criticism of Prime Minister Koizumi. Still, it was inappropriate for the foreign minister to raise the issue himself. At the same time, we must reflect on our own behavior, and ask ourselves whether it was desirable to raise the issue in that way.