[Viewpoint] Diplomatic disasters shame Korea

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[Viewpoint] Diplomatic disasters shame Korea

The Korea-Japan information protection pact has sparked a heated controversy. The completely confidential preparations for the pact from the beginning proves that the government was aware of the sensitivity and volatility tied to such a move. Moreover, the administration attempted to conceal the nature of the pact by omitting the word “military” from the title of the agreement.

The answer is clear on whether or not it needs to be ratified. What else is subject to the National Assembly’s ratification defined by the Article 60 of the Constitution if not the military agreement with a country that had denied and infringed on the sovereignty of Korea?

What are the real benefits Korea would gain if the pact were signed? Korea and Japan won’t be able to promote mutual interests by exchanging military information regarding the United States, China and Europe. Sharing information on North Korea would be the only actual benefit, and that has very little effect on South Korea. Seoul cannot expect Tokyo to provide more valuable information than what it already has or what Washington can provide.

If the aggravating inter-Korean relations in the Lee Myung-bak administration has resulted in military closeness with Japan, it poses a more serious problem. All the past administrations had maintained separate bilateral approaches with North Korea and Japan, but the Lee administration would be the first government to integrate the two. It has always been a strict taboo to directly involve Japan in the unification, peace, security and sovereignty of Korea.

Despite the pressure from Washington to establish a military cooperation system among Korea, the U.S. and Japan, President Syngman Rhee refused normalization with Japan, and Park Chung Hee limited the cooperation to the economy. Ever since Roh Tae-woo proposed a peace council of six Northeast Asian countries, the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations have permitted Japan’s involvement in Korea’s security, peace and reunification issues only through a Northeast Asian organization or the six-party talks.

However, Tokyo’s participation was limited to multilateral apparatuses. The Lee Myung-bak administration reminds us of the anti-communist and pro-Japanese trends before and after the founding of the Republic of Korea, when the communists were denounced and many of the former Japanese collaborators remained powerful. The Lee administration’s hatred of Pyongyang and cozy relationship with Tokyo are the worst possible tactics for peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula.

We have nothing to gain through military cooperation with Japan, as we pressure Pyongyang and encourage China to play a greater role to resolve the nuclear issue and bring peace to the peninsula. Even during the cold war era, when the socialist bloc’s unity among China, the Soviet Union and North Korea was far stronger than today’s bilateral cooperation between China and North Korea, we never considered cooperating with Japan on military issues.

Japan’s attitudes on human rights, history and territorial issues, including the Dokdo dispute, the “comfort women,” history textbook distortion, the Yasukuni shrine and indemnification for the colonial rules are key elements to be considered when making a security pact. The extreme rightists and those feeling nostalgic about the military imperialism are the very group that promotes Japan’s militarization and expansion. We need to think about who would benefit from this attempt between the pacifists and rightists in Japan and whether it would contribute to the alliance of the two countries and peace in the Northeast Asian region.

We also need to think about the plans of the United States. Since World War II, the U.S. has been promoting a security order in Northeast Asia with Japan as a main axis. Presidents Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee refused military cooperation with Japan because the Korea-U.S. alliance would weaken as much as Japan’s role grew. In the cold war era, the Korea-U.S. alliance meant not just a simple deterrence of a North Korean threat but also a multilayered security structure of defending against China and the Soviet Union and holding Japan in check.

We still remember the history that the United States unilaterally sacrificed Korea’s interests for those of Japan in the secret Taft-Katsura Agreement, the Treaty of Portsmouth, General Order No. 1, the Treaty of San Francisco, the Dokdo dispute and the naming controversy over the East Sea. There is ample historical evidence that Japan’s emergence initiated by the United States is hardly desirable.

The Lee administration is repeating diplomatic catastrophes over and over. Its failures include the U.S. beef import negotiations, the confidential contacts in preparation for the inter-Korean summit, a series of failures in resource diplomacy and the postponed signing of the Korea-Japan information protection pact.

These diplomatic blunders are shameful for a country of Korea’s reputation and size. These diplomatic failures leave a stain on the administration and the nation.

*The author is a professor of political science at Yonsei University.
By Park Myung-rim
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