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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on Jan. 11)

All News 06:57 January 11, 2017

Diplomacy in crisis
Presidential runners must be prudent and cool-headed

Korean diplomacy faces tough challenges on all fronts.

Japan has recalled its ambassador to Seoul and a consul general in Busan to protest a civic group's installation of a statue symbolizing Tokyo's wartime sex slavery before the Japanese consulate in Busan. Our neighbor also halted talks on a bilateral currency swap agreement with Seoul. In his NHK interview, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged South Korea to show sincerity in implementing the ''comfort women'' agreement reached in late 2015.

We are speechless with the nonsensical reality that the assailants who committed a crime against humanity chide the victims.

China has been hell-bent on retaliating in response to Seoul's decision to host a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system here. The country with the world's second-largest economy admitted this last week when a group of opposition lawmakers visited.

We cannot but feel the arrogance of a neighboring superpower, which has cut off all official channels and is trying to inflame our internal schism by rolling out the red carpet for our senseless lawmakers.

The Trump administration's inauguration next week will also produce formidable challenges. Even at this moment, it is hard to know what his policies on the Korean Peninsula will be. Given that during his campaign the president-elect asked Seoul to pay more to keep American troops here, our anxiety is growing.

The magnitude of diplomatic challenges facing Korea is serious indeed amid a leadership vacuum caused by the parliamentary impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.

But a bigger problem is that parties and presidential hopefuls are competing fiercely to overturn sensitive diplomatic agreements even at the risk of hurting our alliance with Washington.

Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, claims Seoul should return the 1 billion yen it received from Japan and nullify the comfort women accord, and most opposition contenders support his argument.

The opposition parties also call for shelving the THAAD deployment or withdrawing its agreement, citing China's retaliation.

But it is hard to know what the backlash might be. Trump, who sees all relations as deals, might want to pull U.S. servicemen out of the peninsula. Especially on the THHAD issue, there is fear that Seoul will set a bad precedent of yielding to Beijing's pressure, let alone damage the Seoul-Washington alliance.

One of the most important principles in diplomacy is consistency. Unless this is upheld, nations cannot trust each other. There is no doubt that agreements must be honored.

All this requires our presidential runners to be more prudent and cool-headed about security and diplomatic issues. A fundamental change of policy direction must come following a significant policy review after taking power.

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