Zero degrees of latitude
The author is the Tokyo bureau chief and rotating correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Until recently, Japan strictly enforced “facility isolation” for people arriving from abroad. The measure was unusual, as Japan was afraid that Covid-19 — particularly the Omicron variant — might spread in the country. When criticism grew and Covid-19 spread widely, the measure turned out to be ineffective, and isolation was largely relaxed.
As of April 13, only seven countries remain on the list of those with quarantine requirements. They are Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Egypt, Russia, Turkey, Vietnam and Korea. While they are politely described as “designated countries,” they are the last remaining “C7” — not G7 — seven countries afflicted with the pandemic.
But the Blue House still insists that it is “K-disease control that the world admires” in an online white paper released on March 20. As the number of deaths and confirmed cases soared, some say, “We need to shift from the existing paradigm.” It’s not funny if they know the wrath and bad feelings Koreans have as they head to quarantine facilities when everyone else goes their own way as soon as they get off the plane at the airport. The Moon Jae-in administration does not say anything about the reality. The government’s Covid policy is backward, but the idea of distorting the situation is even more surprising and backward. It’s better to brag about what it really can.
Last week, I heard the remarks from Chinese Ambassador to Korea Xing Haiming. He said, “The word Thaad have become a taboo word in China-Korea relations.” At that moment, a scene overlapped in my mind. A high-ranking Chinese government official recently summoned a Korean expert living in Japan. The official suddenly said, “China is willing to make concessions as long as the incoming Yoon Suk-yeol administration does not touch the Thaad issue.” When the expert asked, “What kind of concession are you talking about?” the official abruptly brought up Hyundai Motor and Samsung Electronics. He explained that the two Korean companies would have no problem in doing business in China if the Yoon administration doesn’t touch the Thaad issue. What was meant by the Chinese official? First, contrary to China’s official explanation, he admitted that China’s economic retaliation for Korea’s deployment of the U.S. missile defense system is in progress. Second, his remarks are a warning that China will not accept Korea pushing for additional Thaad deployments. He looks down on Korea so much that he can make such arrogant remarks.
But it is also the result of the government’s low-key diplomacy, which has been subservient to China over the past five years. When China openly claimed that it had reached an agreement with South Korea on the “three No’s” — no additional Thaad deployments, no joining of a broader U.S. missile defense system and no Korea-U.S.-Japan military alliance — our government made an excuse. “It was just a consultation,” said the government, causing confusion. Korea became on par with G7 nations in size, but Korean people’s pride was destroyed by what the government called “balanced diplomacy.” True balanced diplomacy is to treat an ally like an ally and a strategic partner like a strategic partner in proportion to the relationship. The government mistook the “balanced diplomacy” for “equidistant diplomacy” between the United States and China. It is a tragedy for President Moon to be ignorant of diplomacy, but it is a catastrophe to destroy diplomacy.
Lately, I have been getting a nasty question from my foreign friends. They ask, “Is the president of your country going to jail again since the government has changed?” This is the most embarrassing and painful question. Nearly all previous governments carried out political retaliation under the banner of eradicating corruption. That is rare in world history. In Pensées, French philosopher Blaise Pascal famously said, “Three degrees of latitude reverse all jurisprudence … It is a funny sort of justice whose limits are marked by a river; true on this side of the Pyrenees, false on the other.” But sitting at the same Blue House with zero latitude difference, our presidents championed different justice. At the apex of this could be the Moon administration, which sent two former presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye to prison and retaliated against the previous conservative governments by putting all three former National Intelligence Service (NIS) chiefs behind the bars on charge of appropriating “special activity expenses.”
The liberal government turned a blind eye when Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su remodelled his official residence after misappropriating funds. The one who tied the knot must untie it. Moon, who led all this abnormality, should pardon former president Lee Myung-bak and the former NIS chiefs in the final month of his term. If it is impossible, immediately after taking office, the new president has to do it. That could help the country avoid political backwardness.