[Viewpoint] Diplomatic triumph baffles China

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[Viewpoint] Diplomatic triumph baffles China

At 7 p.m. on Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama stood at the podium at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan. He was speaking at the dinner banquet for the International Conference on the Future of Asia. The forum, hosted by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, a major Japanese newspaper specializing in financial and business news, was attended by leaders from many Asian countries.

Prime Minister Hatoyama spoke with composure about his vision to create a regional community for East Asia. But as he concluded his speech, he raised his voice suddenly. “This morning, the results of the investigation into the sinking of a South Korean warship on March 26 were announced in South Korea. They determined that the sinking was caused by a North Korean torpedo.”

Hatoyama continued, growing visibly exercised. “North Korea’s actions cannot be condoned by any means, and Japan strongly condemns it together with the international community. Japan firmly supports the Republic of Korea, and will closely collaborate with the countries concerned, not least with the United States, so as to respond to this situation in cohesion with the entire international community.”

I noticed that Katsuya Okada, Japan’s foreign minister, who was sitting at a table in the first row, was nodding in agreement as the prime minister spoke. The expression on the face of Cheng Yonghua - the Chinese ambassador to Tokyo, sitting at the table right behind Okada’s - was completely different. He slowly closed his eyes. Maybe the phrase “the entire international community” sounded like a euphemistic way of pressuring China.

Some 90 former and current Asian leaders were on the banquet’s guest list, including Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore; Mahatir bin Mohamad, former prime minister of Malaysia; Evans Revere, former U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary and acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs; and Surin Pitsuwan, the secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The biggest subject of the closed-door banquet was none other than the Cheonan incident. I asked an executive from the People’s Daily, an official media organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, who was sitting next to me, “Now that we have found a smoking gun suggesting North Korea is responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan by torpedo attack, how are you covering the story?”

He said that the newspaper reports factual information only without making any editorial comments. “It is between South and North Korea, so China does not want to interfere.”

I pressed him further, saying that Korea was highly interested in whether China would join the efforts of the international community to pressure North Korea with sanctions.

However, he smiled and did not say another word. Later, Ambassador Cheng gave last-minute notice that he would not be able to attend the panel discussion that he was scheduled to take part in on Friday. Apparently, Beijing is dumbstruck at the actual physical evidence discovered by the South Korean government tying Pyongyang to the tragic incident.

At the banquet, the Japanese leaders displayed a resolute attitude. Hiroyuki Arai, secretary general of the opposition New Party for Reform, harshly criticized Pyongyang, saying that Japan and Korea need to keep a strong bond especially at a time like this.

Ruling Democratic Party assemblymen formed a united front. Ryosei Kokubun, an expert in international politics and dean of the faculty of law at Keio University, said, “Pyongyang and Beijing may not have expected such a solid piece of evidence to emerge, and China must not condone the situation.”

Singaporean and Indonesian leaders agreed. Waseda University Professor Toshihiko Kinoshita, who was sitting at my table, concluded, “Instead of rushing to the conclusion that the attack was made by Pyongyang, President Lee Myung-bak invited specialists from around the world and conducted a thorough investigation over two months. Seoul provided a decisive piece of physical evidence, which garnered the confidence of the international community. It is hard to find such leadership in Japan today. It is a true victory for Korean diplomacy.”

Lately, Korean politicians have been arguing over who first doubted Pyongyang’s involvement. The Grand National Party claims that the Democrats first suggested that Pyongyang was not responsible. But the Democratic Party argues that it was the Blue House and the National Intelligence Service that first floated the idea that North Korea was not involved. It is a strange debate.

Whereas the international community highly regards “not jumping to conclusions,” Koreans are fighting over it. I could not bring myself to talk about this absurd debate at my table.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Hyun-ki
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