Listening to the other side

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Listening to the other side

The author is a Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who established the Korea-Japan Joint Declaration with former President Kim Dae-jung in 1998, is known as “Buchi-phone.” “Buchi-phone” is a nickname combining “buchi” from his name with “push-phone.” When he was in office, he often began his phone calls with, “This is Obuchi.”


When he was in graduate school, he traveled around the world in 1963 and sent a letter to Robert Kennedy, then-attorney general of the United States, requesting a meeting. Kennedy met with Obuchi for 20 minutes and said he hoped to meet him as a politician in Washington.

The meeting became a chance for him to pledge that even if he rose to a higher position, he would lower himself to talk to anyone. As an incumbent prime minister, he called a broadcasting station, made a surprise appearance on a television program and called a reader who contributed to a newspaper’s opinion section. He had a sense of humor and ordered a pizza be delivered to the reporters who criticized that he was “as indecisive as a cold pizza.”

The open leadership of the two leaders who always communicated with their ears open must have played a major role in the creation of the Kim-Obuchi declaration, which is considered the textbook of Korea-Japan relations.

The two nations’ communication, which has been blocked since the beginning of the Moon administration, is beginning to open up now. A Japanese friend I dined with recently said that the reputation of the Korean Foreign Ministry and the Korean Embassy in Japan have improved greatly. Takeo Kawamura, a politician knowledgeable in Korea and a secretary in the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians’ Union, said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo that Korean Ambassador to Japan Nam Gwan-pyo was communicating with the prime minister’s office actively.

Many Japanese people say that Ambassador Nam listens to others attentively but never fails to say what he needs to and that it is hard to find a flaw in him.

Officials in charge of Korean affairs in Japan’s Foreign Ministry have clearly changed from the past, when they “gritted their teeth” at the Korean Embassy. Of course, some still say, “They say what they want to say for 28 minutes in a 30-minute meeting.”

An accumulation of small changes must have had a positive impact on extending the life of the Korea-Japan Gsomia and on the Korea-Japan summit in late December. Whether it is the forced labor issue or the export ban, the key to resolving pending issues between the two countries should be found from the basics of diplomacy, which is listening to the voice of the other side.
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