Keeping the status quoJapanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stressed that the Korean government keep to the bilateral settlement reached last year regardless of leadership changes in Seoul. He most likely took the action in protest to a local civic group’s installation of a statue outside the Japanese consulate in Korea’s second largest city of Busan.
Abe wants our government to remove the statue symbolizing the comfort women that served in Japanese military brothels during World War II. While Seoul dithers amid a leadership vacuum after President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment over an abuse of power scandal, Japan recalled its ambassador in Seoul and a consul general in Busan and cut off talks on a bilateral currency swap arrangement. The bewildered foreign ministry is merely hopeful that Tokyo would ease off on its fury.
Seoul has been kicked and humiliated on the diplomatic front. China has upped the offense in retaliation against Korea’s decision to deploy U.S. antimissile system Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad). Beijing also called off events aimed at fostering military cooperation since last July followed by a government ban on airing Korean TV programs, and toughened barriers and regulations on Korean companies.
U.S. president-elect Donald J. Trump, who is taking office next week, warned of high tariffs against Toyota considering building a factory in Mexico. Korean companies planning or running factories in Mexico would also be affected. Trump has named envoys to China and Japan, but is in no hurry to nominate the U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
Despite challenges all around, Korean diplomacy is stumbling without leadership. We can hardly expect strong commitment from acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn on the diplomatic front. When the impeachment process ends and new leadership can be elected is uncertain for the moment. But we cannot stay stranded during the transitional period. Bureaucrats at the diplomatic and economic team must do whatever they can to defend the country’s dignity and resources.
During the contingency, the best option is to keep to the status quo. Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy Yoo Il-ho and national security adviser Kim Kwan-jin have flown to Washington to have talks with Trump’s members on the incoming administration.
The political sector must also fully cooperate. Regardless of individual beliefs and designs, president-aspirants must put them aside to help the government weather the challenges during the transition period.
The opposition Minjoo Party of Korea’s visit to Beijing to discuss the Thaad issue cannot be excused. It must help the incumbent government so as to minimize diplomatic damages and disadvantages to the country.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 9, Page 30
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