The author is a Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
“I am not supposed to talk about having a meal? It’s nothing special,” Kenji Kanasugi, director-general of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, said to himself in front of his juniors as he visited Korea on Aug. 29 for a senior official’s meeting. The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not confirm to the reporters that he had a luncheon with his counterpart Kim Jung-han, the Korean Foreign Ministry’s Asia-Pacific bureau director.
The Korean Foreign Ministry refrained from mentioning the luncheon.
According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, the two officials had lunch at an Italian restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel near the Korean ministry. They met for about two and a half hours. Japanese reporters know about this.
Kanasugi, who had been overseeing Korean Peninsula affairs at the Japanese Foreign Ministry since June 2016, was promoted to the post of director-general for inspection on Sept. 3. It is the second-highest bureaucratic position in the Japanese ministry after the deputy minister.
While I congratulate him on the promotion, those who are interested about Korea-Japan relations have concerns about relations after Kanasugi leaves. While he worked for the interests of Japan, he tried to understand the position of the other side and had a passion for improving the bilateral relations.
He is one of the most respected senior bureaucrats in Japan’s Foreign Ministry. He is not only capable but humble. There are many people in that ministry who would volunteer to work in Seoul if Kanasugi were made the ambassador to Korea.
While he was at the frontline of the Korea-Japan confrontation and was called to the prime minister’s office every day, he listened to the opinions of Korean correspondents. In the elite group in the Japanese Foreign Ministry where Tokyo University’s law majors were the mainstream, graduating from Hitotsubashi University was his weapon.
Lately, there are people in Japanese diplomatic circles embroiled in controversy. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who is likely to be replaced, lost points after stopping Ambassador Nam Gwan-pyo in the middle of speaking and making a fuss.
Japan’s Economic Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who is likely to succeed Kono, is similar. Political panels on a television news show said he was capable but had a bad reputation, and the Foreign Ministry is gloomy after learning Motegi would be coming and was looking for resilient secretaries to serve him.
The departure of Kanasugi and the character of the next foreign minister are adding burdens as we engage in a diplomatic war with Japan.