[TODAY]Clarify goals in policy toward Japan

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[TODAY]Clarify goals in policy toward Japan

The Roh Moo-hyun administration’s policies toward the United States and Japan are so sharply contrasting as to excite the interest of the people. There is a clear goal in policy toward the United States, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, but the policy toward Japan gives the impression of drifting from here to there according to the wind of public opinion. The goal of President Roh’s U.S. policy lies in improving relations between North and South Korea and minimizing the nation’s dependency on the United States for its national security through the nationalistic and independent diplomatic choice of stating what he thinks we should. The extended goal of this is to play the leading role in creating a Northeast Asian community, including China and Russia, in which the confrontation between the United States and Japan on one hand and China and Russia on the other is restrained.
What about the administration’s Japanese policy? If we arrange the sequence of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, the commotion created by the Dokdo and Japanese history books issues and the diplomatic reaction of President Roh and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the order they occurred, we can see at once that the Roh administration has no strategy in its Japanese policy. At the South Korea-Japan summit talks held in Jeju in July last year, President Roh made a big concession that he would not raise issues related to history during his term of office. However, in his Independence Day speech this year, the president turned around completely and demanded Japan clear up the past and apologize. It was the time when fierce protests over the issues of the Dokdo islets and Japanese history textbooks were being staged at home.
When Mr. Koizumi visited the Yasukuni Shrine on Oct. 17, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ban Ki-moon said it would not be appropriate for him to visit Japan under such circumstances, and revealed his intention to cancel a scheduled Korea-Japan foreign ministers’ meeting. However, a week later on Oct. 24, he changed his position, saying he would meet the Japanese foreign minister and tell his counterpart that a regular Korea-Japan summit meeting could not take place if Mr. Koizumi insisted on visiting the Yasukuni Shrine. He went all the way to Japan to say something everyone knew, even if he didn’t go there just to say so. So what happened between Oct. 17 and Oct. 24? What “happened” was that there was no public reaction in South Korea. Japan was actually surprised because Korean public opinion was so quiet, although Mr. Koizumi and a group of Japanese Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers had visited the Yaskuni Shrine. The Asahi Shimbun paid attention to the fact that criticism against the Korean government was stronger than that against Japan in the Korean reaction, and reported on Oct. 23 that Korean public opinion had lost energy and failed to show straightforward reactions. The report was quite to the point.
What is the reason the president and the minister of foreign affairs talk so lightly about Korea-Japan relations, an important part of Korean diplomacy, and make the people confused? It is because there is no clear strategy or goal in our policy toward Japan. To the Roh Moo-hyun administration’s foreign affairs team, there is no immediate target like nationalism or independent diplomacy that should be reclaimed from Japan. Also, Japan is only a minor partner in the plan for creating a Northeast Asian community.
The administration thinks there is no problem in watching the changing direction of public opinion at home, copying China, changing words often according to convenience and taking it easy, if it is for the promotion of a cooperative relationship that has no time limit for completion.
Mr. Koizumi has the characteristics of a member of an island people. He is irrational and anachronistic enough to admire the kamikaze suicide squadron. He also does not have the vision to understand universal Northeast Asian values. He is not the type of person to give up his visit to the shrine just because a neighboring country protests. But that does not mean it is okay for the president and minister of foreign affairs to continue going back and forth between hot and cold when they talk about Korea-Japan relations. There is one thing that President Roh should do and another that he should not do, when it comes to our policy toward Japan.
We need to make it a rule that summit talks and ministerial conferences will take place, if necessary, to solve such big issues like the North Korean nuclear problem and establishing a new Northeast Asian order, despite Mr. Koizumi’s visits to Yaskuni Shrine. And even if there is difficulty in domestic politics, he has to fight the urge to use the Japanese issue as a means to break through such difficult situations.
President Roh said of himself that he surpassed his own diplomatic goals. I don’t know. I think it would be best to wait for the evaluation of the people after he has put our diplomatic relations with Japan on track and reflected on the reason why an influential U.S. senator has said Korea has historical amnesia when it comes to the Korea-U.S. relationship.
President Roh’s new Northeast Asian order is a long-term goal that is worth pursuing. However, it is an ideal that cannot be reached without cooperation between the United States and South Korea.

* The writer is an adviser and senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie
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