Meet without conditions
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
It was like a chariot of fire running indefinitely. After Japan announced an export ban on July 1, Seoul and Tokyo have been stern on each other. The Korea-Japan trade authorities’ working-level meeting in Tokyo on July 12 was the trigger of the discord.
The Japanese officials didn’t even wear ties, and the title on the white board — “Working-level Info Session” — seemed quite condescending.
The meeting, which was the opposite of courteous, changed the mood in Korea. Those who considered a composed response to Japan’s economic retaliation for the Korean Supreme Court’s ruling ordering Japanese companies to pay for Koreans forced to work during World War II suddenly changed their minds and started to support a boycott on Japanese products. Around this time, Japanese programs began addressing the Korea-Japan discord as a major topic.
On July 18, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono called in Korean Ambassador to Japan Nam Gwan-pyo and behaved rudely, cutting-off Ambassador Nam in the middle of the conversation. It was clearly intentional as journalists covered the moment. The foreign minister’s statement on the same day asked the Korean government to “correct its violation of the international law,” but did not mention any repentance on its occupation of Korea or any sympathy for the pains Japan had caused victims.
Korea responded emotionally. The Blue House defined Japan not as a diplomatic partner but as a country to fight, branding those who deny the government’s position as “Japanese collaborators.” It even said, “It’s either patriotism or betrayal of the country.” President Moon said that he hoped Japan would return to diplomatic resolution, and warned the Japanese economy would suffer greater damage. Only the warning was delivered to Japan. There has been no voice calling for calm dialogue.
The emotional confrontation must stop and a cool-down must begin. On the court decision on the forced labor compensation, it is fortunate that the Blue House has started making moves by ordering the Foreign Ministry to come up with a plan.
Japan must also show courtesy. Even if it thinks the Supreme Court ruling violates international laws, it does not to help resolve the issue if Tokyo interferes with the meetings between forced labor victims and offending companies.
In the end, the two leaders should meet and seek a resolution. Just as U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met, Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have to make a decision in a top-down way. The only possible venue is the South Korea-China-Japan summit to be held in China sooner or later. There, the two leaders should be able to meet “unconditionally” and talk frankly.