That isolated feeling

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That isolated feeling

Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se had bilateral talks with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida in Myanmar on the sidelines of the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) on Saturday. It has been 11 months since the two foreign ministers met at a UN General Assembly session in September 2013.

During the talks, Yun mentioned various diplomatic disagreements between the two countries, such as: Japanese politicians’ controversial visits to the Yasukuni Shrine; the Shinzo Abe administration’s “reconsideration” of the Kono Statement; anti-Korea rallies by far-right Japanese civic activists; and the matter of former Korean sex slaves used by the Japanese military during the World War II. Kishida responded, “There was no change in our perception of history compared to the former administration.”

Although we can say the ministers took one step forward to try to improve diplomatic ties, they actually failed to agree on holding a summit between President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

On top of these diplomatic issues, Yun mentioned a shocking article published by the Japanese Sankei Shimbun about President Park’s behavior on the day of the sinking of Sewol ferry on April 16. Korean prosecutors have summoned the article’s author, Sankei’s Seoul Bureau Chief Tatsuya Kato, for questioning on Aug. 12. During the talks with Kishida, Yun said he “felt very regrettable” about the article.

The Korean government needs to deal with this matter so as to not provoke anti-Korea or anti-Japan sentiment in the two counties, particularly ahead of the Aug. 15 Liberation Day.

While Korea and Japan are struggling to get out of a tunnel of mutual distrust, Japan and China are creating a mood to thaw their bilateral ties. On Friday, the foreign ministers of the two countries held bilateral talks, the first in Abe’s second term. Their talks followed an alleged visit by former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to Beijing at the end of July, where he had a secret meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Allegedly, Xi showed a will to improve relations with Tokyo.

Tokyo also had low-level talks with Pyongyang officials on the sidelines of the ARF. But there was no meaningful meeting between the two Koreas in Myanmar. If Beijing and Tokyo reconcile and Pyongayng and Tokyo also make progress in relations, we could be isolated in Northeast Asia, like “a duck egg in the Nakdong River.” It’s time for us to desperately devise an active and creative point of view in diplomacy.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 11, Page 30

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