Ignore Tokyo’s boasting
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The latest controversy surrounding Korea’s decision to terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan and subsequent suspension of the decision is similar to the Cho Kuk crisis in many ways. President Moon Jae-in went ahead and announced an end to the Gsomia despite experts’ saying he shouldn’t. He also appointed Cho as justice minister, despite strong oppositions. In both cases, the government came back to where it was without any tangible outcome. The decision to end the Gsomia was suspended after 92 days and Cho stepped down after 35 days.
Of course, the Blue House made a difficult decision on Friday to recant its decision to end Gsomia. It must have made the decision for the sake of the national interest, although it was destined to face criticism. It must have made the hard decision to swallow its humiliation, whether it was because of U.S. pressure or the need to restore relations with Japan.
In 1968, the USS Pueblo was seized by North Korea and its 82 crew members were detained. After an 11-month-long negotiation, the Johnson administration signed a humiliating apology that the vessel had wrongly violated North Korean territorial waters and the crew was released.
At the time, The New York Times reported that it was a wise decision from the Johnson administration to allow a small dent in the U.S. national pride. The Moon administration also probably had to sacrifice its pride, but it was a rightful U-turn to avoid a worse situation.
But the Blue House’s actions following the decision are disappointing. They are tainting the hard decision. First, the Blue House is reacting too sensitively to the Shinzo Abe administration’s flamboyant media affairs. There is no need to do so. Foreign affairs is an extension of internal affairs. It is more than using foreign affairs to cater domestic political purposes. It is an extension of internal affairs, because outcomes of foreign policy are used to heighten the approval rating of an administration.
While U.S. President Donald Trump said it was a tremendous victory for U.S. farmers, the state-run Global Times of China said the outcome was more than expected, despite its pessimistic prospects in the past.
The Blue House must ignore the Abe administration’s propaganda. “I don’t know what Japan intended to achieve by announcing the agreement seven to eight minutes later than the agreed time,” said National Security Director Chung Eui-yong. The remarks seem petty. He even said “Try me,” using the English expression to warn Japan. “If Japan continues groundless arguments, no one knows how Korea will react,” said Chung. That is too emotional.
The Blue House also needs to stop blaming the Korean media. Yoon Do-han, senior presidential secretary for public communication, criticized the media. “I see Korean media reports one after another to relay Japan’s stance from Japan’s perspective,” he said. An online comment on a report about his remarks criticized him. “If I criticize a Korean defense player for performing poorly during a football match between Korea and Japan, does that mean I am siding with Japan?” the comment said.
“In July, Japan abruptly announced tightened export controls against Korea, and they are a de facto retaliation over the forced labor issue since last year […] The Japanese government must have serious talks on the export controls and withdrew the tightened measures,” said a newspaper editorial on Saturday. It was Japan’s Asahi Shimbun. The editorial seems to reflect Korea’s position from Korea’s perspective. In any country, proper journalists do not try to please a particular administration.
Now is the time to think coolheadedly about what we will gain from ending Gsomia. “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made,” said Otto von Bismarck. The same goes for a foreign policy. It is often desirable to avoid nitpicking.
The latest decision to suspend Gsomia termination must be seen as a giant step to normalize the Korea-Japan relations. It is right to restore the Korea-Japan relations and trilateral cooperation among Korea, Japan and the United States to create a situation beneficial to national interest. You must avoid the worst situation where you face criticisms and gain nothing.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 26, Page 34