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Koizumi’s Silence

Posted March. 24, 2005 22:25,   


On March 24, the Japanese government showed a wait-and-see attitude without making any official comments on South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun’s message in which he harshly lashed out Japan. It is reported that some politicians and government officials of Japan began to insist on self-reflection. On the other hand, however, more felt offended when the South Korean president publicly heightened the level of criticism against Japan.

According to a foreign source, in the Japanese Foreign Ministry, an atmosphere of self-reflection has been created, and many think that the situation became worse because the Japanese government did not taken the issue seriously and treated it a mere domestic political matter.

Meanwhile, another Japanese government official did not hide his anger, saying that Roh’s message was full of emotion and that it was like reading a message from North Korea. “I was at a loss for words. It would be better not to respond to every case,” said another government official in the Japanese Foreign Ministry. Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Gen Nakatani (former director general of the Japanese Defense Agency) criticized President Roh’s message, saying that the president’s concern regarding the Japan`s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and its rearmament is hard to understand because the SDF will not use military force overseas.” Shingo Nishimura, an opposition lawmaker, also said that the message could ditch the relations between the two nations that have been building until today. If this continues, it will be of great benefit only to North Korea.

In a press conference regarding the 2005 budget bill on March 23, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was asked to comment on the South Korea-Japan relations. “Prime Minister! Prime Minister! Prime Minister!” the reporter called three times, but Koizumi hurriedly left the conference hall without making any comment. During the conference, the prime minister only mentioned the general diplomatic situation and repeated calm response.

The Japanese government seems to be cautious about making any comments, only saying Roh’s message was a letter for the public. However, analysts say that most are in a state of shock and looking for ways to mend the rapidly aggravated relations between the two neighbors.

On March 23, staff members of the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo stayed up late into the night keeping up with responses and articles reported in the Japanese press. They still looked tense the next day as they estimated the possible effects of the situation for the future.

On the occasion of the “Korea-Japan Friendship Year 2005,” they have contacted concerned Japanese parties and are now worried that several cultural and sporting events between the two nations will not be held. The plan for the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between South Korea and Japan, supposed to be completed within the year, will not make progress either. They also talked about possibility that the Korean “wave” in Japan might rapidly subside.

Only two morning papers, the Asahi Daily and Yomiuri Shimbun, carried related articles with comments on their first pages on March 24, while other press outlets carried a few facts only.

The Asahi Daily’s article titled, “Farewell to Quiet Diplomacy,” took a comprehensive look at anti-Japanese sentiment in the Korean Peninsula with the explanation that the sentiment was exacerbated by the combined effects of the issue of sovereignty over the Dokdo islets, distorted history textbooks and Yaskuni shrine visits. Along with this, the article mentioned the possibility that the ruling party’s political calculation might work, with the by-elections a month away.

The Yomiuri Shimbun carried an article titled, “Behind the Public Rage,” saying that there were also concerns about the possible economic effects of the dispute.

The Japanese public broadcast station NHK reported that inside the Japanese government, there are suggestions that since President Roh’s criticism of Japan is in the form of an Internet message to the public, the government should not respond promptly and try to find its real intention instead.

Hun-Joo Cho hanscho@donga.com