21 April 2006

Tokdo: Roh to Wag the Dog?

For anyone who has been following the latest Tokdo saga (Japan's planned oceanographic expedition and South Korea's rather vocal and nautical response), there is at first glance nothing new here. Japan and South Korea remain cantankerous over the Tokdo-Takeshima dispute, they toss words, deploy ships and fly aircraft. But there is something a little odd this time around upon closer examination. Japan seems a little too swift to give in. It has postponed the survey (weather may have played some roll in that) and is sending diplomatic officials to Seoul to assuage the South Korean ire.

Why, one may ask, is a Japanese government that makes trips to the Yasukuni standard protocol and waves the visits in the face of the Koreas and China now going and doing damage control on an oceanographic survey they KNEW would rile Seoul and trigger a South Korean response? It appears that Japan underestimated Seoul's anger – or more accurately underestimated how far South Korean president Roh Moon Hyun may be willing to take the tensions this time.

Roh is a lame duck president. First, the five-year, no VP, no repeat term South Korean presidential system effectively creates lame ducks as soon as mid-term parliamentarian elections are over. Add to this the deadlock in the six-party talks, the increasing U.S. pressure against Roh's push for greater economic integration with the North and the domestic opposition to the Free Trade Agreement and Roh is really not doing too well. One doesn't even need to look at polls to understand Roh's condition.

So Roh has not backed down in his decrying of the Japanese expedition. In fact, he has hinted at going beyond diplomatic rhetoric. While he has not really said just what he may plan to do beyond a few swift criticisms and perhaps a chewing out of the Japanese ambassador, Tokyo is apparently getting wind of a more concrete offensive – and the fear is that Roh may be hoping the Tokdo tail wags the Korean dog in order to re-invigorate Roh's mandate. After all, who can spend time criticizing or second guessing Roh when all are equally incensed at the Japanese "aggression" going on in the East Sea (east sea, mind you, not the Sea of Japan)?

No comments: