[Viewpoint]High ideals, little actionOn the morning of Oct. 18, Mie, the 95-year-old mother of Japan’s new prime minister, hosted some guests at her house in Setagaya, Tokyo.
The visitors were former Posco Chairman Park Tae-jun and his wife. They visit her once or twice a year. When the couple arrived, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s wife, Kiyoko, ran out to welcome them. The wife of Mie’s nephew, who lives with her, joined them, too. The meeting, which was scheduled to last 30 minutes, went one hour and 10 minutes because Mie kept asking them to stay longer. They talked about a lot of issues facing Korea and Japan.
The Fukuda family has maintained a close relationship with Park over dozens of years. That day, Park complimented Fukuda, saying, “Prime Minister Fukuda looked stable on television. He didn’t seem shaken by the attacks from opposition lawmakers.”
Kiyoko responded, “That’s because you think so much of him, Mr. Chairman, but I don’t watch television because my husband gets ‘bullied’ by the opposition lawmakers.” Her comment caused everyone to burst out laughing, and the comfortable conversation continued until the end of the visit.
Park then visited the office of former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. He is a hard-liner against North Korea, but his way of thinking is flexible. Probably aware of this, Park said, “During the inter-Korean summit, North Korea revealed that it doesn’t have any ability to wage war.” He hoped to persuade Nakasone that the Japanese political circle should be more flexible regarding North Korean issues. Nakasone kept nodding his head in agreement.
Meantime, the Korea-Japan Parliamentarian Union held a general meeting in Seoul on Sept. 3. Afterward, the union issued a joint statement reading, “South Korean representatives asked for a sincere collaboration from their Japanese counterparts to pass a bill granting the right to vote in Japan’s local elections to permanent foreign residents in Japan as soon as possible. The Japanese representatives promised to make more efforts to help with the passage of the bill.”
The union has issued joint statements with similar words for years.
In the Budget Committee of the House of Councilors held in Tokyo in March, a Democrat asked, “Because South Korea has granted permanent foreign residents the right to vote in local elections, shouldn’t we also acknowledge the right of South Korean permanent residents living here the right to participate in our local elections?” The next moment, a pathetic scene took place: The minister of land, infrastructure and transport spoke for the Japanese government on behalf of the cabinet members of the Liberal Democratic Party, including the prime minister, who kept silent.
For such a bill to pass in the Liberal Democratic Party, it needed to get approval from the justice committee, political affairs examination committee and general affairs committee. For the past five years, that bill has often passed the general affairs committee. However, it has not gone through the justice committee. Since February of last year, the justice committee has not even handled it. It doesn’t matter what the Korea-Japan Parliamentarian Union announces, Japan’s Liberal Democrats do not budge.
In other words, the Korea-Japan Parliamentarian Union, led by Moon Hee-sang, a former presidential chief of staff and former Uri Party chairman, has no power or network to move the Japanese lawmakers. In a nutshell, there is a political disconnect between Korea and Japan.
I remember what Moon, the Korean chairman of the union, emphasized during his visit to Japan immediately after the inauguration of the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
“Diplomacy between Korean and Japanese representatives should get away from the old-fashioned system that depended on a behind-the-scenes network and instead take the direct approach,” he said.
He was right, but what did we gain? We have gained nothing, including the right to participate in local elections, the free trade agreement and distorted textbook issues. Japan may have treated Moon cordially but does not seem to have trusted him. Talks of distrust are heard here and there.
In this regard, political exchanges between South Korea and Japan during the past five years have become an ice age, in which there has been no trust but hurt feelings, and no reality, just ideals. The time has come to melt the iceberg.
*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Hyun-ki