Korea's Diplomacy Is a Deepening Shambles

      May 30, 2019 14:04

      U.S. President Donald Trump boarded a Japanese naval destroyer that was named after the ship that led the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The Kaga sank in the Battle of Midway in 1942, but Japan for some bizarre reason named a new one after it in 2015. Japan's new F-35B stealth fighter jets will take off and land on the Kaga once it is modified into the island country's first aircraft carrier since World War II.

      Japan agreed to buy 105 more F-35s from the U.S. in addition to 42 originally slated for purchase. Washington earlier agreed to share stealth jet development secrets with Japan. No wonder then that Trump was happy to call the East Sea by Tokyo's preferred name "Sea of Japan." Next Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe embarks on a visit to Iran, which faces fresh sanctions from the U.S. over its nuclear program. Things are going swimmingly for him on the diplomatic front.

      At the same time he has been able to patch up ties with China that were frayed by historical and territorial disputes. The two sides' defense ministers meet at an international defense forum in Singapore called the Shangri-La Dialogue on Friday, and last month a Japanese warship took part in a fleet review in China flashing the rising sun flag. The foreign ministers of both countries have announced the "normalization" of bilateral ties, Japan sent a delegation of officials to China's Belt and Road Initiative meeting, and China resumed imports of Japanese beef. The two countries are also negotiating a summit on the sidelines of next month's G20 summit in Osaka.

      Meanwhile Korea remains isolated amid major power shifts in Northeast Asia. A five-member delegation of senior Korean lawmakers visited Japan on Wednesday but got the cold-shoulder treatment. They were not even granted a meeting with the head of the Diet's Foreign Affairs Committee and only managed to meet a first-time lawmaker. The Koreans were told that a meeting in Osaka between the Korean and Japanese leaders cannot be held until Korea agrees to refer a dispute over compensations for wartime forced-labor victims to an arbitration panel. But diplomacy needs to differentiate between past and present. Korea-Japan relations have deteriorated to a point where the two sides are effectively no longer on speaking terms. A U.S.-Japan-Korea trilateral summit has yet to be set up on the sidelines of the Osaka meet, whereas the Indian prime minister is scheduled to meet with both the U.S. and Japanese leaders. The U.S. and Japan are spearheading a fresh strategy on the Indian and Pacific oceans, but Korea has refused to take part. That gives India and Australia a chance to expand their power in the region. It is hard to imagine how Seoul could isolate itself any further.

      At the G20 summit, China and the U.S. will undoubtedly demand a clear position from Korea on Trump's anti-Huawei campaign and attempts to curb China's territorial expansion in the South China Sea. The Foreign Ministry should be spending every available moment to find a way through this mess, but instead it is in chaos after the leak of confidential information to an opposition lawmaker, while Cheong Wa Dae is busy attacking the opposition. The Moon Jae-in administration's plan of betting everything on improving inter-Korean relations has proved a disaster. That could have been predicted, but mistakes happen. The important thing is to rise above them and concentrate on the present reality.

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