Friction with JapanA Japanese patrol plane once again made a dangerous flight over one of our warships in the sea off the Ieo islet Wednesday. The airplane ignored 20 warnings from the Korean ship. Japanese aircrafts have made such provocative moves three times over the last six days.
That helps reinforce military tensions between the two countries following a similar case last Sunday in the East Sea. Tokyo claimed our destroyer aimed its radar at its patrol aircraft, but did not present any credible evidence. Then Japan resumed such provocation two days after declaring a cancellation of a consultative meeting to address the issue.
We wonder what pushed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe into such a dangerous gamble. Some Japanese media attribute it to an attempt to raise his plummeting approval rating after trying to control migrant workers from foreign countries. Others link it to Abe’s outrage over South Korean courts’ rulings awarding damages to Koreans’ forced into labor during World War II. If that’s true, Abe deserves criticism for trying to turn his approval rating around through external provocations.
Our government’s reaction fell short of our expectations. The Moon Jae-in administration did not make any sincere diplomatic efforts to resolve the problem. Some members of the ruling Democratic Party called for a scrapping of a bilateral agreement to share sensitive military information with Japan. On top of that, veteran diplomats with expertise in Japanese affairs under the former conservative government were all driven out after the new administration was launched two years ago.
If Seoul-Tokyo ties are severed, it will hurt us more than Japan. Without supplies from U.S. bases in Japan, the U.S. Forces in South Korea cannot successfully conduct military operations in times of crisis. Our government must take into account the importance of Japan’s investments here. The two neighbors must cooperate.
It seems as though the government is trying to fuel the conflict rather than calm it. In the meantime, Abe is putting greater priority on diplomacy with Southeast Asia than on diplomacy with South Korea and improving relations with China. That only deepens South Korea’s isolation.
Even if the conflict is a result of hostile policies under our two previous administrations, the two countries must find a way to get along. President Moon should meet Prime Minister Abe to put relations back on track. The Moon administration and the Abe cabinet must find a win-win solution.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 25, Page 30