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[Opinion] Hot Spring Diplomacy

Posted December. 15, 2004 23:01,   


“Would not two heads of state enjoying a hot spring sound good?” This idea of including a hot spring trip to the itinerary of the Korean-Japanese summit meeting scheduled to be held from December 17 to 18 was proposed by Japan to help lighten the mood of the summit. However, the proposal felt short of being realized. The problem lay not at the working level, but in the subtle national sentiment. A foreign source interpreted this by saying that Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who had been constantly blamed by the Chinese leadership due to his frequent visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, must have hoped to keep a check on China by demonstrating “unreserved friendship” with its other neighbor South Korea.

The venue of the summit meeting is Ibusuki in Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu, which is close to the base of people who voiced aggressive expansionism of invading the Joseon Dynasty in the late 19th century, which cannot be dismissed easily. However, just looking at it as a tourist site, the venue is well known for the splendid scenery and hot springs. It is also famous for its quality hot spring water influenced by volcanic ashes of an active volcano, and its black sand beach is the only place in the world where you can enjoy sand bath spas. Various mineral in the sand is known to have special effects in eliminating waste matter in the body.

Hot spring diplomacy is the ace in the hole that Japan employs when it needs to turn the mood of summit meetings favorable. In 1983, when then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan visited Japan, then-Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone personally poured liquor and served Reagan in his traditional costume at a hot spring. The strong impression that Ronald and Nancy Reagan couple received at that time set the basis for the “Ron-Yasu” U.S.-Japanese alliance. The next venue of the meeting between the two intimate leaders, U.S. President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, is likely to be a hot spring.

Nevertheless, the great performance of the hot spring cannot obscure the pending issues of diplomacy. The two heads of South Korea and Japan met at Beppu Hot Spring in 1997, but the atmosphere of the meeting turned sour as the issue of a Japanese politician’s absurd remark about history was brought up. The relationship between South Korea and Japan, with sensitive pending issues at stake, cannot succeed despite the plausible packaging unless it is backed by mutual respect. We anticipate the day when the two heads of state can truly enjoy a relaxed hot spring summit. For the sake of true “forward-looking partnership.”

Park Won-Jae, Tokyo Correspondent, parkwj@donga.com