The trap of wishful thinking

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The trap of wishful thinking

Kim Hyun-ki

The author is the Tokyo bureau chief and rotating correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.

Ogawa, captain of Yakult, the winner of this year’s Japanese professional baseball league, took the microphone in front of 30,000 home fans on the day of the victory. At the last moment, he shouted to the fans, “Saranghaeyo!” (I love you in Korean.) They cheered at the Korean greeting.

At a recent editorial meeting of a Japanese newspaper that had maintained a cold tone towards Korea, some attendees said, “Korea is turning favorable toward Japan, so shouldn’t we change our stance a bit?” This actually led to a change in its editorials. That’s an amazing change.

Lately, officials at the Korean embassy in Japan and the foreign ministry praise themselves, claiming that Japan’s response has changed dramatically. They seem to have optimism that Japan will soon open its arms and the conflict between the two countries will be addressed.

Would they really do so? Strictly speaking, it was simply sweet talk. The Japanese government and the Liberal Democratic Party still remain stubborn. On the issue of compensation for forced labor, Japan only came to negotiations because of America urging improved relationship with Korea. In other words, Tokyo’s stance of “no compensation” remains unchanged. At the beginning of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration, Yoon himself declared a “grand bargain” for forced labor compensation and other history issues, export regulation, the military information protection agreement, the patrol plane radar incident and Fukushima seafood issue. None were resolved. Such wishful thinking is a result of the Yoon administration neglecting Japanese Prime Minister Kishida’s political style of “knocking on the stone bridge but still not crossing it” and the complex bureaucratic structure in Japan. It is due to the “wishful thinking” of believing what we want to believe, just like during the five years of the Moon Jae-in administration.

When U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Korea in August, Yoon did not meet her and only had a phone conversation because he was on vacation. The office of President Yoon claimed that it was fully understood by Pelosi. In the sudden phone call, “Pelosi gladly said she appreciated it,” said the presidential office.
President Yoon Suk-yeol answers questions from reporters on his way to the presidential office at Yongsan, October 27. Asked about the growing demand for redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea to counter North Korea’s mounting nuclear threat, he said the government is considering diverse options. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

Really? A high-level Japanese official, who met Pelosi when she visited Japan after Korea, said, “Pelosi was very angry with Korea.” It was the opposite of what Yoon’s office announced. The Korean authorities were informed, but they absurdly responded, “Isn’t it because Pelosi is a person with a lot of anger?” Regardless of whether the decision to skip a meeting with Pelosi is right or wrong, this type of wishful thinking only leads to despair.

The same is true for the controversy over South Korea sharing U.S. nuclear weapons and the redeployment of U.S. tactical nukes. When President Yoon said, “We are carefully examining various possibilities,” Washington immediately dismissed his comment. It said nothing has changed in the U.S. policy. The problem is twofold. First, if President Yoon made such a comment with serious changes in his administration’s nuclear policy in his mind, it is a ridiculous mistake.

Did he really think that there is any possibility of America to “reconsider” once he openly talks about his unripe nuclear policy? It is a long shot even if he thoroughly and secretively prepared the logic for Korea’s own nuclear armaments or the deployment of U.S. tactical nukes. Even if his administration had stealthily discussed with Washington ways to deal with international sanctions or pressures on South Korea if Seoul and Washington agreed to one of the two options. But President Yoon said it himself. Second, if he said it without really thinking about it, it is a thoughtless government indeed.

Finally, I want to talk about the promotion activities to host the Busan Expo. While the Yoon administration advertises that Korea would be “the seventh country to host all three mega events, the Expo, the Olympics, and the World Cup,” few countries consider the title important these days. Also, the government says Korea’s hosting of the expo will “contribute to the spread of soft power and the Korean Wave.” But the rest of the world already feels the power of the Korean wave even without the expo.

The Korean government’s wishful thinking is different from global sentiment. I have another concern. Politicians, businessmen and officials who come to Tokyo meet the same Japanese figures and ask for the same thing. Do they think it helps? Too much is worse than not enough. Did they ever think about the adverse effect of giving another diplomatic card to Japan?
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