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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on Oct. 6)

All Headlines 07:03 October 06, 2016

Begging Abe for favor
Foreign ministry outwitted by Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a history-denying, warmongering descendant of a World War II war criminal. Handling this calculative politician in his latest gambit on the "comfort women" issue, the foreign ministry deserves a big flunking F for its naivete, defeatism and incompetence.

On Sept. 29, ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck told reporters, "We expect the Japanese government to take steps to address the sensitivities of the former victims of wartime sex slavery." The ministry had been asking for Abe's letter of apology in lieu of his direct spoken words of regret.

On Oct. 3, Abe told the Japanese parliament that he had not "a tip of a hair" of intention to do so. The expression is rarely used in ordinary life, and because it is too impolite to use in reply to Seoul's suggestion means nothing less than an insult to Korea.

The problem is that by all appearances the ministry had begged for it.

Last Dec. 28, foreign ministers of the two countries agreed to wrap up a rancorous dispute over Japan's forced prostitution of Korean women for its soldiers in the lead-up to and during World War II. Under the agreement, Japan would pay 1 billion yen or 10.8 billion won in government restitution and Abe's apology was verbally relayed by Fumio Kishida, Japan's top diplomat.

Ministry spokesman Cho's plea came at a time when Tokyo paid up the agreed sum with which the government began a foundation for comfort women. Most of the surviving comfort women and their advocates oppose the agreement, while public opinion is also unfavorable.

Besides, Abe has taken every chance afterward to emphasize that the agreement should put an "irrevocable" end to the issue. In return, the government has neither ditched the pact nor raised the issue strongly.

Regarding Abe's rejection, Cho refrained from commenting.

The ministry should have known better. Minister Yun Byung-se gave his word on the behalf of the nation so in this case Abe was not wrong, however deplorable his behavior was. This doesn't have to mean that the sex slavery issue is over as Abe wishes. Rather, it is time for private citizens to take the initiative and press on so as to thwart Abe's dream of letting loose the beast in Japan again. This is an issue that deserves the attention of all the peace-loving conscientious people of the world.

One mystery is why the ministry made its public overture, knowing that Abe would certainly reject it. The two sides talked about a follow-up measure from Japan including Abe's letter with the launch of the foundation. It can't be ruled out that the Japanese side hinted at accommodating Korea's request for Abe's letter in a diplomatic sleight of hand and, as often in the past, then pulled out. Even if it is true, it only would prove the Korean diplomats' tactlessness.

This case raises a question whether our diplomats are up to the task in the ever-challenging environment: hegemonic ambitions by Japan and China, North Korea's nuclear and missile brinkmanship and the United States' failed pivot to Asia. The nation sorely misses an ultimate diplomat to disentangle itself from this set of old and new challenges and help it strike a path to unification.

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