President Lee Myung-bak’s administration needs to start wrapping up what it has been pursuing, instead of launching a new controversial project. But it appears to have ignored that it now has just eight months left until the end of its term in office, when it attempted in vain to conclude a treaty with Japan.
On Friday, the Korean ambassador to Japan was scheduled to sign the General Security of Military Information Agreement with the Japanese foreign minister at a ceremony in Tokyo. To its humiliation, however, the Lee administration had to instruct the embassy to cancel the signing ceremony 50 minutes ahead of schedule. It did so under pressure from the ruling Saenuri Party, which had to withdraw its support for the treaty as public opposition mounted, and had demanded that the ceremony be called off.
It should not have come as a surprise if the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was dumbfounded at the last-minute change of plan. The Japanese ministry reportedly lodged a protest, though the Lee administration claimed it had obtained Japan’s understanding. The Japanese Cabinet had approved the treaty earlier in the day.
The Lee administration had no one but itself to blame for the diplomatic faux pas. It did not take into consideration a strong anti-Japanese sentiment the Korean public harbored when it agreed to conclude a treaty with Japan for the exchange of confidential security information.
Lee was accused by his critics of being “pro-Japanese to the bone” ― one of the most derogatory epithets that could be thrown at the president ― when his administration withheld a public notice about the approval of the treaty by his Cabinet earlier in the week. Some critics asked if he was in his right mind when he decided to conclude such a treaty with Japan, given the Korean-Japanese territorial dispute over the Dokdo islets and Japan’s refusal to acknowledge that Korean women were forced into sexual slavery during its colonial occupation of Korea.
The ill-fated treaty is all but dead, though the Lee administration says it will seek to put it into effect again after reporting it to the National Assembly. Such an ill-advised attempt would further alienate Lee from not only the public but the ruling party, which would like to have its image untainted ahead of the December presidential election.