A half-step forward
The existing official position of Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was ambiguous. It said the issue needs to be considered with respect to the comity of nations and practice related to the protection of foreign legations. But here, Yun said, “The general position of the international community is that installation of a statue in front of a foreign mission is not desirable.”
Japan immediately welcomed Yun’s remark. Kyodo News Agency reported, “He showed understanding of Japan’s position demanding removal of the statue.” The Mainichi Shimbun joined the chorus, saying, “Japanese Ambassador to Korea Yasumasa Nagamine, who was called back temporarily, is to return this week.” Japan interpreted Yoon’s wording to its advantage as an exit strategy.
Just as Yun said, most countries are against the installation of a structure in front of a diplomatic mission. Korea would find it uncomfortable if a similar structure were installed in front of the Korean mission in Vietnam.
Nevertheless, there are reasons for the public’s outrage over Yun’s remarks. What matters is not what he said but the timing and Japan’s attitude. Japan has been demanding removal of all comfort woman statues and memorials around the world, not just the one in Busan. In 2012, the Japanese consul general in New York and legislators flocked to the city hall of Palisades Park in New Jersey to demand removal of the comfort woman memorial there. Japan’s demands are not for the safety of its diplomatic mission but for denial of history. Yun’s remark deserves criticism because he did not address Japan’s intention. The remark was also made when Japan called back its ambassador and threatened to stop currency swap.
Nevertheless, Yun’s remark means Korea has kept its promise from the 2015 agreement to “make efforts for proper resolution of the statue issue.” Now, if Japan’s actions and words deviate from the essence of the agreement — Japan’s sincere acknowledgement of responsibility and apology — Seoul should firmly press Tokyo to uphold the agreement. When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the plan to send a letter of apology to the victims was “out of the question,” the Korean Foreign Ministry only reiterated that it wants to refrain from specifically discussing it. Such an attitude is hard to understand, even now.
Former Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said in a television program on Jan. 15, “Seoul must demand Japan continue showing acts of apology and repentance so that the Korean government can persuade groups involved and create a reconciliatory mood.” Yun needs to listen to Song’s advice when he takes the remaining half-step on the issue.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 16, Page 29
*The author is a political news reporter at the JoongAng Ilbo.