[Viewpoint] Don’t fan the flame of discord

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[Viewpoint] Don’t fan the flame of discord

Some people, including political leaders, may think that Korea can ignore diplomatic courtesy and be rather rude to Japan. President Kim Young-sam openly said once that he intended to teach Tokyo some manners. It was a completely inappropriate remark, at least diplomatically. In the early days of the Kim Dae-jung administration, the minister of maritime affairs and fisheries flew to Tokyo and demanded a renegotiation on a nearly concluded fisheries agreement to include clauses on two-boat trawl. This action was hardly acceptable either.

There have been many such troubles, big and small, and these reflect the domestic political situation rather than diplomatic disagreements.

We say foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy, and foreign policy with Japan is especially affected by domestic situations. Sometimes such domestic interference is management, but other times, it gets completely out of hand.

And now, once again, the Korea-Japan pact on the protection of classified information has become a political issue. If the government believes that the pact was necessary and justifiable, it should have promoted it regardless of criticism at home. If the government was afraid of criticism, it shouldn’t haven even started negotiations.

Unfortunately, though, the government hushed the talks and postponed the pact on the day of the scheduled signing. Its timing couldn’t have been worse.

On the 10th anniversary of the second Yeonpyeong Naval Skirmish, the government completely botched up the first military pact with Japan since Japanese colonial rule. The government acted as if it was caught while having an affair. The administration might be incompetent, insensitive, or feeble in general, or it is headed by someone with no experience at all. Maybe it is suffering from all of the above.

The opposition’s attack was expected. However, the ruling Saenuri Party made a sudden turn and joined the opposition’s offensive. By nature, the most desirable solution is to separate security interests and emotional grudges. A spokesman’s statement on May 27 and 28 suggested that the Saenuri Party had separated the two.

But it seems to have changed its position and is no longer willing to stand under the same umbrella with the Lee Myung-bak administration when the attacks start.

The ruling party has made a politically reasonable choice. As the presidential election is slated for December, it has no reason to share the brunt of the attacks on the Lee administration. The Saenuri Party must have determined that attacking the government with the opposition party is the best defense. Separating security and emotional grudges may be the right answer in theory, but it isn’t always politically beneficial.

If the Saenuri Party takes the side of the government, it runs the risk of being framed as pro-Japanese. And according to Korean public opinion, pro-Japanese stigma is a more serious offense than having pro-Pyongyang tendencies. Being framed as pro-Japanese would certainly not help the ruling party in the presidential election campaign.

In effect, it looks as if the Saenuri Party has pressured the government to postpone the pact for its own political benefit. The ruling party has avoided a major disaster in its mind, but the opposition party is still attacking the Saenuri Party.

Some citizens may feel relieved that the deal is off and that Japan is frustrated. It may help your mental health to feel vengeful in this sense, but we need to calmly consider the issue if it really helps Korea’s national security. Some condemn this pact, which would have been the 25th agreement of its kind, as “abandonment of security sovereignty” or “another Eulsa treaty.” Has Korea really abandoned security sovereignty 24 times and suffered humiliation 24 times? How can Korea still be in existence after signing a similar pact 24 times?

Let’s be serious. The agreement does not grant full-scale military cooperation. It simply installs an additional “security net” between Korea and Japan.

Of course we need to decide the exact level of cooperation for ourselves after comparing the possible pros and cons of implementing such a pact. But the government failed to even explain the significance of the pact to citizens, and politicians tried to take advantage of the fiasco for their own benefit. In the end, this diplomatic issue has become a domestic failure.

In November 2005, President Roh Moo-hyun told Japanese assemblymen at the Blue House that “political leaders must be restrained in order to avoid unnecessary amplification of emotional confrontation between the citizens of the two countries.” Today’s leaders would be wise to follow his advice instead of fanning discord by using our emotional history as kindling.

*The author is the political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Nam Yoon-ho
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