Aggressive diplomacy demandedRemarks on the troubled modern history of Korea, China and Japan by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman could suggest Uncle Sam’s perception of the issue, despite the U.S. State Department’s efforts to calm the backlash. At a seminar
in Washington on Friday, Sherman said, “Of course . . . it is not hard for a political leader anywhere to earn cheap applause by vilifying a former enemy. But such provocations produce paralysis, not progress.”
Sherman has long been a champion of prudent and restrained language on diplomatic issues. But such inappropriate rhetoric by a high-ranking U.S. government official at a public conference cannot but be seen as a reflection of Washington’s hidden intentions regarding the thorny issue.
Of course, it is too early to interpret her remarks at face value. So far, the U.S. government has repeatedly demanded Japan take a sincere approach on its shameful colonial past whenever the chance has been made available. For instance, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to “comfort women” as sex slaves for Japan’s Imperial Army during World War II, and U.S. President Barack Obama also
called them victims of a “shocking and egregious violation of human rights.”
But we can hardly get rid of the feeling that Washington may be anxious about the unceasing conflict over history between Seoul and Tokyo when it desperately needs a solid trilateral alliance among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo to cope with China’s rapid rise. Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said last year that improving Seoul-Tokyo ties is a huge priority
for U.S. foreign policy in Northeast Asia.
However, the uproar over an unfathomable statement from a top U.S. government official could also be attributed to our government’s diplomatic failure to effectively persuade Washington that Japan’s inappropriate recognition of its own past is detrimental to tripartite cooperation. In fact, Sherman’s remarks could well reflect the Japanese logic that even though Tokyo makes efforts to address the issue, Seoul and Beijing are not willing to accept this due to their own political reasons.
Japan takes a more aggressive approach than Korea in promoting its own stance to Washington to the extent that it has created senior positions in charge of pitting Seoul against the U.S. Korea, too, must deliver its position in a much clearer way.
The government should convince Washington that Sherman’s logic based on laying responsibility on all the concerned parties does not help improve strained Seoul-Tokyo ties; instead, it only deepens Koreans’ anti-Japanese sentiment. At the same time, the government must actively seek cooperation with Japan on other issues such as security and the economy.