A willingness to compromise
Earlier this week, the Korea-Japan Elders Council convened in Tokyo. Senior leaders of Korea and Japan sought resolutions to the deadlocked relations between the countries. While there are no clear solutions, the meeting reflected the desperation of the leaders. Just as in Korea, politicians and officials in Japan cannot easily mention “Korea” because of Abe’s hard-line attitude.
It is noteworthy that the Abe government is increasingly becoming confrontational and stubborn. It has tipped over from “We cannot trust Korea” to “We won’t trust Korea.” The shift of willingness brings tremendous differences.
However, the situation should not be viewed from the angle of bilateral relations. We need to calmly review why the United States is allowing Abe to speak to Congress during his visit there next month and why German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized the tolerance of France as much as Germany’s apologetic attitude. We should not be upset or choose an angle as we please. What Korea wants to see and what Japan the United States and the international community see are different. The United States and the international community strictly pursue their own interests, and it is too naive, and even foolish, to think they would support Korea as a victim forever.
At this juncture, a solution emerging among Korea and Japan watchers is an envoy plenipotentiary. Certain names are mentioned, such as Blue House Chief of Staff Lee Byung-gi for Korea and Cabinet Minister Yoshihide Suga for Japan. Japan considers Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se a hard-liner, and Korea thinks Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida cannot convince the prime minister of anything.
Lee is known for his prudence, always ending a report with “Please destroy upon reading” even when Park was the Grand National Party head. In order to prevent any modification or fabrication, he writes report in his own handwriting. Nicknamed “Buddha,” Suga is selective about what he says. Both come from humble backgrounds. Lee used to sell books to pay for his room near Seoul National University. Suga came from a small town in Akita Prefecture and worked at a restaurant and factory while going to college. They share a sentimental bond, and when Lee was an ambassador to Japan in 2012, the lifeline remained open when Seoul and Tokyo were growling at each other.
In fact, this may be the last remaining line to recovering Korea-Japan relations in this administration. It is up to President Park and Prime Minister Abe to decide whether to use this chance or discard it. But it is better to bend than snap.
*The author is a Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, March 28, Page 30
by KIM HYUN-KI