Why Has Anti-Japanese Sentiment Suddenly Evaporated?

      November 05, 2019 13:17

      President Moon Jae-in chatted with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for about 10 minutes on the sidelines of the ASEAN Plus Three Summit in Bangkok on Monday. Cheong Wa Dae was quick to spin the meeting as a chance for the two leaders to "reaffirm the principle that bilateral issues must be resolved through dialogue." Moon, it said, proposed "high-level meetings" with the Japanese government.

      Of course it would be nice to see steps being taken to resolve their bitter spat, but Japan had quite a different take on the brief meeting. Abe, it said in a cursory press release, merely reiterated his position that Tokyo has already compensated Korean victims of World War II atrocities. The Japanese media, meanwhile, is more focused on Abe's meeting with the Indian prime minister. Perhaps only Korea is getting excited about what was after all the briefest of chats.

      The current stalemate cannot be allowed to continue, whether from an economic or national-security point of view. But it is puzzling to see members of our government, who had been stoking anti-Japanese sentiment, scurry to resume dialogue with Tokyo. Earlier, Deputy Foreign Minister Yoon Soon-gu met his U.S. counterpart and even asked Washington to play a role in "improving Korea-Japan relations." Yet a national security director at Cheong Wa Dae had said not so long ago that Korea risks becoming a "global pushover" if it asks for U.S. help.

      All this comes as the government is trying to shift public attention away from the scandal surrounding short-lived Justice Minister Cho Kuk and decided to terminate a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan. But the U.S. protested strongly against the scrapping of the pact, and Cheong Wa Dae was cornered. Now Seoul has to cling to any shred of justification to extend the pact, and a meeting with Japanese officials is crucial to make that happen. That is why our Korea looks more desperate than Japan.

      The government, from the president down to Cheong Wa Dae secretaries and ruling-party lawmakers, vowed to punish the Japanese and even raised the possibility of boycotting the Summer Olympics in Tokyo next year. The Minjoo Party even circulated a report saying the Seoul-Tokyo dispute could work in its favor during the upcoming general election. Where are the fierce warriors now?

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