Holding our diplomats accountable

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Holding our diplomats accountable

Korean Ambassador to the United States Ahn Ho-young called Congressman Mike Honda right after the agreement on the wartime sexual slavery by Japan. Congressman Honda has been representing Korea’s position for the last 20 years. He expressed his disappointment, as it was not much different from the Kono Statement, and he felt Korea had made too many concessions.

As Honda prepared to hold a press conference, Ambassador Ahn told him that the Japanese foreign minister directly mentioned the Japanese Prime Minister and apologized, saying the agreement extracted the word “moral” from “moral responsibility,” language Japan had previously used. The ambassador persuaded Honda that the agreement focused more on the legal significance. In the end, Rep. Honda issued a statement that includes both concerns and praise, reflecting his agony.

Former Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan considers the agreement a diplomatic victory for Korea, with the proverbial score 51 to 49. But I disagree. I think Korea did its best and scored 49. In fact, it was hard to expect we’d do any better.

Korea still needs to deal with Japan on the Sakhalin forced labor and the victims of the nuclear radiation. The comfort women issue should have been clarified on the human rights level no matter how long it took, while a summit meeting should be held to discuss other issues.

However, Korea has been integrating all these issues together for nearly three years, getting caught in its own trap. The United States and the international community may be on Korea’s side for historical arguments, but it is a matter of time until they grow tired politically. If Korea had separated history from politics, that wouldn’t have happened. The diplomatic authorities are responsible for its overly hard-line moves without any strategy.

Korea won temporary political rhetoric, but was left with the permanent physical burden of “refraining from criticism in the international community” and a “final and irreversible agreement.” Moving the comfort woman statue is a complicated issue. All these are the original sin of the lost three years in Korea-Japan diplomacy.

In accordance with Article 3 of the 1965 claims settlement between Korea and Japan, we could have formed a tripartite mediation committee that includes a third party to bring an end to the issue. But Korea had no gut, courage or power to go for it. So we had to negotiate, and the latest agreement is the result of lack of strategy and power.

When the processing of the labor reform bill was delayed, President Park quoted English historian John Seeley as saying, “History is past politics, and politics present history.” She wants to argue that history will be the judge. The politics of the future will judge her legacy, but in the present, she must at least hold the diplomatic authorities accountable for limiting our capacity for success in these negotiations.

*The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 5, Page 30


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