Mutual respect is the beginning

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Mutual respect is the beginning

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

I was posted to Tokyo in December 2017. The Moon Jae-in administration announced its verification results of the 2015 Korea-Japan comfort women agreement. The following trials on forced labor and Japan’s export ban set a thorny path for Korea-Japan relations. In the meantime, I felt something afresh. The Korea-Japan relationship is a mysterious space that knocks down diplomatic common sense or practice, or basic work ethics.

Of course, a considerable part of aggravating relations lies with Japan’s Abe government for using economic retaliation for a historical issue. Japan’s attitude is especially unreasonable. At the briefing on the export ban on July 1, 2019, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said that because Korea did not present a satisfying solution on the forced labor issue until the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in June, 2019, Japanese government ministries’ review showed that trust between the two countries was noticeably damaged. Japan made it clear that the export ban was a retaliation for the forced labor trial. However, Japan backed up, as Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on June 30 that the forced labor issue and export control were separate issues. Japan’s argument is incomprehensible.

But Japan claims that Korea was irrational. On the memoir of John Bolton, the Blue House National Security Advisor said that unilaterally disclosing content agreed to based on mutual trust seriously damage trust in future negotiations. A Blue House official also said that Bolton forgot the basic of keeping the negotiation process of diplomatic relations confidential.

On this, a Japanese source in Tokyo asked if Korea had the right to say that even after disclosing under-the-table agreements on comfort women after two years. The source asked whether the Blue House had the logical consistency to blame Bolton for forgetting basics of diplomacy.

Japan’s entry ban on Koreans in March also led to controversy. Korea said there had not been “any consultation.” But Japan claimed that its Foreign Ministry delivered the information they collected to the Korean Embassy in Japan.

Korean reporters also cross the line. Some media write critical articles on the Abe cabinet only based on online responses of Japanese internet users. Would we be convinced if a Japanese reporter criticized President Moon Jae-in based on comments on Korean portal sites?

In this mysterious and unreasonable reality, it is impossible to improve the relationship. Mutual respect is the beginning of solving the problem.
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