Chrysanthemums in Washington

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Chrysanthemums in Washington

On Aug. 19, a seminar titled “History Impedes Future Progress in Northeast Asia” was held at the Heritage Foundation, a think tank in Washington, D.C. Here, former Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis C. Blair emphasized the importance of political leadership when dealing with historical issues. He said, “Big public actions, whether a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine or Dokdo-Takeshima Island, are simply fodder for exploitation by political opportunists.”

He was right to advise political leaders to be extremely prudent, but his comparison was inappropriate. How could a visit to the shrine, where World War II war criminals are remembered, have the same symbolic meaning as a visit to Dokdo, which simply provokes Japan? Dokdo is a bilateral issue between Korea and Japan, while the Yasukuni Shrine is a controversy that involves many countries.

On Aug. 13, Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott had an interview with Park Jin, former chairman of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee. As he explained whether emerging China is an “assertive” nation that prioritizes its national interests or an “aggressive” state that seeks more, he analyzed the perception of Washington, D.C., on China. He said that there are so-called “chrysanthemums,” diplomats and think tank researchers who have studied Japan for their entire lives. They are similar to the Chrysanthemum Club, a group of American scholars and State Department diplomats with expertise on Japan.

Japan’s influence in Washington is notable. A think tank head said that he was surprised when everyone he met mentioned “fatigue on Korea” during his recent visit to Japan. They used polite expressions, but in essence the Japanese constantly say that they are tired of and displeased by Korea continually addressing historical issues.

At the seventh Seoul-Washington Forum on Sept. 18, Sheila Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that when she was in Japan, she heard that Japanese people didn’t understand why the legacy of the war, including the comfort women issue, had suddenly emerged and that they didn’t know how to deal with Seoul.

As every country works to promote its own national interests in Washington, we cannot blame the appearance of the chrysanthemums. But it is not easy to promote Korea’s national interests while Japan uses its economic power and reputation. There are many mutual issues on which to cooperate with Japan aside from history. But we also need to nurture a pro-Korea Rose of Sharon, our national flower. Korean diplomacy has a long way to go.

*The author is a Washington correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 23, Page 38


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