Revamping our diplomacy

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Revamping our diplomacy

The Moon Jae-in administration has decided to suspend its scrapping of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan at the last minute — six hours before its scheduled expiration at 12 a.m. on Saturday. Thanks to the 11th-hour reversal, Korea could avoid potential loopholes in its alliance with the United States and in tripartite security cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. We welcome the government’s decision to cancel the termination of Gsomia, as it helped save time for addressing its conflict with Japan.

In a hurriedly-arranged meeting, the government took a step back from its earlier position that Seoul cannot share sensitive military information with Tokyo who took economic retaliations for the Korean Supreme Court’s rulings on wartime forced labor. Three days earlier, President Moon said, “We cannot but sever Gsomia because of Japan’s unreasonable action.” Washington’s strong pressure on Seoul also played a big part in its reversal of the decision.

The government must look back on the past three months and learn lessons from it. It pushed the scrapping of Gsomia in August despite strong opposition from foreign and defense ministries. But it has suddenly stepped back. We wonder what the government really gained from its ultra-hard-line stance. First of all, Japan did not throw in the towel. It refused bilateral negotiations to resolve its export restrictions on three key chemicals — fluorinated polyimides, hydrogen fluoride and photoresists — essential components for the production of semiconductors and displays in Korea. But this time, Tokyo has only agreed to have director-level consultations to solve the restrictions on the materials in return for Korea’s withdrawal of a lawsuit against Japan with the World Trade Organization.

But Korea paid quite a high price in the process, including a schism in its decades-old alliance with the United States. The conflict over Gsomia with Japan will most likely put pressure on Seoul’s negotiation with Washington over defense cost sharing. We hope the Moon administration tackles such thorny issues with the wisdom it has gathered in the aftermath of the Gsomia friction.

Though Korea has barely averted a catastrophe, it is not over yet. Seoul must find a fundamental solution for the wartime conscripted labor — a culprit in the Korea-Japan conflict — as soon as possible rather than wait for an answer from Tokyo. Japan seems to be interested in resolving the problem through voluntary donations from Korean and Japanese companies and a fund from public contributions. The government must first find a solution that can convince the victims and sway public opinion and then negotiate with Tokyo.

Tokyo must approach the issue sincerely instead of fueling anti-Japanese sentiments among Koreans by arguing that its export bans have nothing to do with the Korean Supreme Court rulings. Japan must refrain from its criticism that Korea does not keep promises. We expect Seoul and Tokyo to find a breakthrough by mid-December when Korea, China and Japan hold a summit in China. The government must reflect on its diplomatic and security blunders. A voice calling for a revamp of our diplomatic and security officials is growing fast.
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