[VIEWPOINT]Set clear diplomatic goalsRelations between Korea and Japan are in a serious situation these days. President Roh Moo-hyun and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi have been having frequent summit talks but the problems between the two countries are not being resolved at all. This disharmony of politics and diplomacy at a time when exchanges in cultural and economic fields between the two countries are growing rapidly, and are about to expand to other fields is not at all good for the future of the Northeast Asian region or the Korea-Japan relationship.
Political and diplomatic issues that are stalling Korea-Japan relations at the moment include differences in the perception of history between both sides and territorial disputes, such as over the Dokdo islets. These problems have existed from the beginning, but since Mr. Koizumi became prime minister of Japan, a new, very symbolic act of worshipping at the Yasukuni shrine has been added to them.
Worshipping at Yasukuni brings up the question of whether the definition of war crimes by the Tokyo War Crimes Trials after World War II is invalid. That is why, while symbolic visits to Yasukuni by Japanese right-wing politicians and the prime minister have raised questions over the trials, the U.S. Congress sent a strong and clear message in August by adopting a resolution that the Tokyo trials were still valid.
Mr. Koizumi’s current diplomacy toward Asia is dogmatic and one-sided. It is provocative and unearths the pains of the past while damaging pride in the futures of China and Korea. Because of that, Japan brings on itself the potential crisis of being isolated in Asia.
Let’s analyze Mr. Koizumi’s diplomacy from the sides of both image and actual benefit. Mr. Koizumi stresses his honest but tactless position that he will not yield to any pressure related to his visits to the Yasukuni shrine, and that he will push forward with what he believes is right. He demonstrates through his patience and tenacity what can be seen as the Japanese identity or spirit, and uses this as a means of uniting his people. He turns the order of things completely upside down by projecting strongly that he will not give in to pressure from surrounding countries. In what is almost a fight of national spirit, Japan cannot give in first. This has created the incorrect idea that if Japan sticks to its actions long enough, the other countries will give in.
Mr. Koizumi talks about real profits at all times. Even when there was political friction between Japan and Korea, as well as with China, trade, investment and other exchanges among the three countries were maintained, and the Japanese economy has shown weak signs of reviving. Mr. Koizumi may think that political friction with the surrounding countries has strengthened his domestic position and helped gain people’s support.
There are various reasons why Mr. Koizumi takes a firm and resolute stance on issues related to the Korean Peninsula but only a passive and sneering attitude to six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear program. One of the reasons can be found in the Japanese right-wing’s view on Japanese diplomatic gains. Some figures, who are paving the way for current Japanese right wing diplomacy, think peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem will lead to the integration and unification of the Korean Peninsula and that an improvement in North Korea-Japan relations will bring the burden of helping to support North Korea financially. In other words, unification of the Korean Peninsula could be a huge challenge to Japan, which might not get much in return for providing financial support to North Korea.
Needless to say, there is a problem in that way of thinking and analysis. In the long-term view, when the North Korean nuclear problem is resolved, the focus of the six-party talks will have to develop into a multilateral security system for Northeast Asia. If Japan takes a passive stance, it is feared Japan will lose any profits and its chances of isolation will increase.
It is best for the national interest of Japan for it to maintain good neighborly relations with the surrounding countries, help solve the North Korean nuclear problem peacefully and participate in a multilateral cooperative system for Northeast Asia by improving its relations with North Korea. Japan must pay attention to the warning that its national profits can only decrease slowly if it clings to the framework of bilateral diplomacy as it does these days.
Korea-Japan relations shouldn’t be left to go bad like this. Japan must change the way it sees its neighboring Asian countries. Korea and Japan have good neighborly relations but Japan must be aware Korea will not budge an inch when it comes to the issues of history and territorial rights.
Both Korea and Japan must set their diplomatic goals by making realistic and strategic decisions that are based on clear information instead of vague expectations that have a low chance of realization.
* The writer is a researcher at the Sejong Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Sung-chul