“If (Japan) follows the due processes under the standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), (Seoul) has no particular reason to object,” said Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong on Monday at the National Assembly. He suggested three conditions to Japan to provide sufficient scientific evidence, engage in preliminary deliberations and allow Korean experts to take part in IAEA’s inspection process. When his “conditional acceptance of discharging contaminated water” triggered controversy, he said he was against the decision on Tuesday.
Chung’s previous acceptance of the decision meant that South Korea would level with Japan in its response to the discharge based on scientific grounds. It is only natural for Korea to demand a participation right in the process of verification and the processing of contaminated water to meet the international criteria. But the South Korean minister enhanced the level of pressure on Japan, saying that he was firmly against the decision when his previous remark triggered controversy. Now, it is hard which is his real intention.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been demanding Japan transparent disclosure of information and preliminary discussions under the principle of Japan’s sovereignty on the decision to discharge contaminated water. But Seoul said Tokyo’s decision to discharge made on April 13 was absolutely unacceptable. President Moon Jae-in said he was deeply concerned about it at a meeting with Japanese Ambassador Koichi Aiboshi after the credentials presentation ceremony on April 14. He also instructed to review the possibility of bringing the matter to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. But Chung suggested a conditional acceptance of the decision five days later. It is doubtful whether the government even has a coordinated principle for this. It is dissonant diplomacy that confuses relevant organizations in taking a joint action.
Japan’s discharge of contaminated water warrants strong and consistent response from the government as it is directly related to Korean citizens’ health. That is how South Korea can make the global community including the U.S. and the IAEA to pay heed to our opinion. The South Korean government should announce a closely coordinated stance on Japan’s contaminated water. Through that, Seoul should reduce confusion and relieve anxiety of the citizens and practice persuasive diplomacy.