[Editorial] A belated — and one-sided — explanation

2023. 3. 21. 20:30
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If he had frankly told the people about his thoughts earlier, it could have eased the extreme division of the public.

President Yoon Suk Yeol directly explained about the controversy over his summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo. He started the live-covered, 20-minute speech with Winston Churchill’s famous quote, “If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.” Mentioning President Park Chung Hee’s historic normalization of diplomatic relations with Japan in 1965 and the Kim Dae-jung–Keizo Obuchi Declaration in 1998, Yoon stressed the need to “deal with Japan proudly and confidently.” He accentuated his determination to cut the Gordian Knot — resolving the wartime forced labor issue through a fund led by Korea — to break the diplomatic deadlock.

The president has directly delivered his position on the issue to the general public for the first time since his administration announced the solution on March 6. He may have wanted to calm the deepening public criticism on the solution. We welcome his direct communication with the public as such an approach will certainly help them understand the context of a head of state making a bold decision to mend fences with Tokyo over the past.

But regrettably, the president took the action more than two weeks after the government announced the solution to the wartime forced labor issue. If he had frankly told the people about his thoughts earlier, it could have eased the extreme division of the public. Also, it could have been better if Yoon had delivered his position through a Q&A session with the press instead of a one-sided delivery.

Polls show that more Koreans are critical of the results of his summit with the Japanese prime minister than those approving of the meeting. Japan skipped an official apology on government levels and spiked controversy over the details of the conversation between the two leaders. In the televised speech, however, Yoon did not confirm the conversation with Kishida.

Success of his upcoming state visit to the United States in April and his diplomacy at the G7 Summit in Hiroshima in May also depend on how much national consensus he can build. We hope Yoon communicates with the public more aggressively.

The Democratic Party (DP) must not attempt to score political gains from diplomatic issues. During the five-year term of former President Moon Jae-in, the Korea-Japan relations hit lows after his administration canceled the 2015 comfort women deal the Park Geun-hye administration barely struck with Tokyo. If the DP is bent on waging political offensives without any reflection on its past, it will be attacked for fueling anti-Japanese sentiment without considering the future.

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