Tasks for the ambassador to Japan

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Tasks for the ambassador to Japan

Kim Hyun-ki
The author is the Tokyo bureau chief and rotating correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.

Former Korea National Diplomatic Academy (KNDA) head Yun Duk-min has been named as ambassador to Japan by President Yoon Suk-yeol. Kang Chang-il, appointed by former President Moon Jae-in in January last year, will return home. While serving for about 18 months, Kang has never been able to meet the prime minister or foreign minister of Japan. Tokyo has disapproved of the envoy who represented the Moon government, which worsened ties with Japan with hard-line comments and policies. Japan also would have been displeased with Kang for visiting the Kuril Islands. Still, Tokyo’s attitude towards a diplomatic agent of the highest ranks can hardly be pardoned. Seoul has not treated a Japanese envoy in such a disrespectful manner.

After the launch of the conservative administration in Korea, Tokyo has raised expectations for improved ties with Seoul. It is said to have high regards for Yun, the ambassador appointee. But high expectations can be burdensome for the new envoy. Nothing has changed in Tokyo’s stance on controversial issues such as compensation for wartime forced labor. In fact, Japan has turned more rightist on historical issues. Lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) often talk of a “battle” with Korea over historic issues. I would like to make some suggestions for Ambassador Yun to consider when he comes to Tokyo.

First, he should aim to broaden the support base in Japan. There are pro-Korean politicians and civic groups in Japan. They are fixtures in South Korea-related events. They are a huge help. Former prime minister Yukio Hatoyama is one. He attended President Yoon’s inauguration ceremony last month. He wants Japan to atone for its past and recognizes Japan’s liability. The Korean media calls him the “voice of conscience in Japan.” But to the mainstream politicians in Japan, he is regarded an outsider. When Hatoyama joins, anti-Korean sentiment deepens in Japan. Like it or not, that is a fact. Moderation is essential. Yun must seek out wild untamable rabbits rather than rabbits at home. Hearing them out and persuading them is a more urgent task for the new ambassador.
Yun Duk-min, former head of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy (KNDA), has been named the first ambassador to Japan in the Yoon Suk-yeol administration. [JOONGANG PHOTO] 

Second, contradictions between the two countries should be accepted. Most of the issues between the two are full of contradictions. The two governments must address the compensation issue that had been ruled by the top court in Korea. Seoul has said it respected the court’s ruling but did not wish the liquidation of Japanese assets in Korea, which is contradictory. Tokyo has been equally self-contradictory. It calls for stronger security cooperation among South Korea, the U.S., and Japan when it had slapped export curbs on South Korea for “national security reasons.” Nothing can be solved if both keep to their unique self-contradiction.

For instance, the advancement of aircraft has been a major contradiction. It must not have wheels to lessen the air resistance. But it cannot land without wheels. The paradox was solved by folding the wheels inside the aircraft and pulling them out only when landing. It took 20 years to find the solution. In their bilateral relationship, Korea and Japan must accept their paradoxes and employ creativity to invent new ways for future cooperation.

Third, the new Korean ambassador must try to win over the Japanese people. Few may know what a Korean ambassador does in Japan. The embassy also does little to communicate with Japanese people. It is more engrossed in having Korean correspondents report on them. U.S. ambassador Rahm Emanuel has been stationed in Tokyo since January. His tweets are more read by common Japanese people than government officials. His followers exceed 100,000 and is growing each day. It is mostly pep talks. He raves about the precision of the train arrival and comfortable seats and his first trip to a baseball match in Osaka.

Yun may be a serious scholar, but he should also find some creative ways to make an impression on common citizens of Japan.
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