North America Division 1 of Ministry of Foreign Affairs Gets a New Name: “America-Japan Division”

The weeklong visit of Shinzo Abe to the U.S. was tough for the Japanese prime minister, but it was also tough for the Washington correspondents of Korea as well. With nights and days switched, they would wake before sunrise, revise the first draft of a paper, catch a quick nap, wake up in the morning, cover Prime Minister Abe’s morning schedule and revise the final draft. Such a strenuous work schedule became a normality for the correspondents.

The question of whether Prime Minister Abe will admit the responsibility of the Japanese government for the atrocities of World War II, such as comfort women, and apologize for them is a matter of dignity for the Korean people. His every word, every nuance and every gesture were the subject of intensive journalistic analysis. Without a doubt, journalists were busier than when President Park Geun-hye herself visited Washington. It is also likely that the Korean media wrote about this trip the most, other than the Japanese media.

As expected, Prime Minister Abe ignored Asian audiences in his address to the Senate and the House. Instead, he incurred even more anger from Korea, China and neighboring countries by simply stating “[Japan’s] actions [invasions and colonial rule] brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries.” His expected denial, or at least “downplay,” also caused a backlash from the intelligentsia of the U.S.

On April 28, Andrew Beatty, a White House correspondent of Agence France-Presse, opened the press conference with the two parties in the White House Rose Garden with an unsubtle approach, asking Prime Minister Abe if he “would … make an apology for [Japan’s actions during World War II] today.” Similarly, 187 Japanologists all around the world issued a statement criticizing Prime Minister Abe, including Professor Ezra Vogel of Harvard University, who has always been cautious in siding with Korea in historical matters.

But it has cost us greatly, too. As the Blue House and the Minister of Foreign Affairs become impatient, the rumor of “about 75 percent of Korean diplomatic personnel in Washington being mobilized to hinder Abe’s efforts”* became prevalent in Washington. Lately, the office responsible for providing work directives for the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the U.S. has been jokingly referred to as the “America-Japan Division.”

The criticism of Seoul — which is eager to correct its historical issues with Japan — and its diplomatic capacity in Washington, instead of dealing with realistic and future-oriented issues such as cooperative measures against North Korea, has been focused on the diplomatic sphere in Washington for some time. The fatigue of the American officials who are continuously being asked to “correct Abe’s behavior” is nearing its limit.

Frank S. Jannuzi, the president and CEO of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation explained that he “does not believe the U.S. has to mediate the relationship between South Korea and Japan,” but that it can serve to “promote dialogue between the two countries.”*

All the while, Prime Minister Abe’s future-oriented and realistic message of “alleviating the burdens of its ally, the U.S., by sharing the cost and risk”* is becoming a diplomatic burden for Seoul.

During the summit talk, Japan announced that it is willing to pay $2.5 billion for the repair/refit of the U.S. base in Guam. And yet, Seoul remains unsure of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense installment, which the U.S. offered for free in order to counter the threats of North Korea, because of its worries of Beijing’s response.

The current situation, in which Seoul is diverting its funds for the Korean Air and Missile Defense System to social security services, has a chance of being perceived as an attempt to free ride on American security. The same can be said of Seoul’s contribution to global issues. While Tokyo offered $590 million to help Syrian refugees, Seoul only offered $10 million. Such criticisms are not to be taken lightly.

*Editor’s Note: These quotes, while accurately translated, could not be verified.

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