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Japanese Officials Irked by South Korea’s ‘Photo Ambush’ of Prime Minister Abe at ASEAN Meeting





Japanese officials are incensed by the South Korea’s attempt to set up Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for a photo opportunity that could mislead the public that all is well between the two countries


Photos of a recent meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae In and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were taken and published without the approval of the Japanese side, it was learned on Thursday, November 7. 


The staged photo was seen by observers as a unilateral attempt by Seoul to show to domestic and international audiences that it is eager to improve bilateral ties recently frayed by the controversy concerning wartime Korean laborers in Japan



The surprise move might have backfired, however, since the “photo ambush” by the South Koreans appears to have only increased the Japanese government’s distrust towards South Korea. Several Japanese officials were openly indignant about what they considered a breach of the “principle of good faith.”



Photos by Director of South Korea National Security Office


The meeting in question took place in a waiting room on the sidelines of the ASEAN Plus 3 (Japan, China, and South Korea) summit held near Bangkok, Thailand. According to members of Prime Minister Abe’s party, only the two government leaders and their interpreters were supposed to be in the room during their 11-minute talk.


However, the President’s Office in Seoul subsequently published photos with four people in the room, namely Abe and Moon, as well as two interpreters who used English. Multiple Japanese and South Korean sources have confirmed that the additional person who took the photographs was Chung Eui-yong, director of the South Korean National Security office.



It is clear that everything — from the unscheduled meeting to the photo snapping and rush to publish the photos — was carefully stage-managed by the South Korean side.


A source who traveled with Prime Minister Abe revealed that “the Prime Minister was there in the waiting room and he shook hands one after the next with the 10 national leaders attending the summit, with Moon the last in line.” If Moon wanted to talk, Abe could hardly refuse.



Surreptitious Appeal to World Opinion


President Moon’s official homepage and other South Korean outlets later carried the photos of the two men speaking, along with captions like “President has a friendly chat with Japanese P.M.” These were in English and Japanese, as well as Korean, as part of Seoul’s efforts to appeal to world opinion.



The website of Japan’s Foreign Ministry has no mention of the meeting, as Japan takes the position that it was not an official meeting. Since it was an impromptu encounter, the Japanese side had made absolutely no preparations for such top-level talks. So much more so when it came to the picture-taking.


Granted, there are no hard and fast rules concerning the taking and publishing of unofficial exchanges between national leaders. Nevertheless, a Foreign Ministry official notes, normally even with SNS (social networking services) accounts, a user is expected to have obtained the permission of anyone whose photograph he or she uploads. The source added that the Japanese side viewed South Korea’s behavior in this respect as a “violation of etiquette.”



More Needed to Repair Relations


The leaders of the two countries had not met since September 2018. In an effort to break the impasse concerning the wartime laborer issue, on November 5 Moon Hee Sang, speaker of the South Korean National Assembly, proposed a bill that would establish a fund to which Japanese and South Korean businesses and individuals would contribute to pay compensation to the workers in question. It was seen as evidence of a desire on Seoul’s part to get bilateral relations back on an even keel.



It is clear that Tokyo’s tightening of restrictions on Japanese exports to South Korea since July has caused damage to the South Korean economy. Be that as it may, the Japanese government remains cool to the prospects for a quick fix.


A Foreign Ministry source put it this way: “In the end, the ball remains in South Korea’s court. The question remains whether or not South Korea will offer a concrete plan for solving our outstanding issues.”


(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)



Author: Takao Harakawa, Sankei Shimbun