[VIEWPOINT]Japan’s problem, not Korea’s
The South Korea-Japan summit last weekend was an indispensable event at a time when the two leaders should address the knotty North Korean nuclear problem and future-oriented relations of the two countries. It also marked the first visit of our head of state to Japan in the 21st century.
But the summit talks were unavoidably carried out in an unsettled atmosphere from the beginning, because the meeting was held at a delicate time, on Korea’s national Memorial Day, just a few days after an influential politician from Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party made remarks rationalizing the renaming of Koreans under the Japanese colonial rule, and immediately after the Japanese Diet passed the emergency situation acts and military readiness bills. Because it was held amid regrets and concerns instead of welcome and anticipation, unfortunately, the effects of the summit were halved.
Nevertheless, Korean representatives displayed a firm attitude toward the summit talks, saying that, while clearly challenging Japan on certain points, they would willingly pursue future-oriented bilateral cooperative relations. Through the joint statement, both countries reconfirmed their determination to specify their diplomatic cooperation in security areas for the peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem and the stabilization of Northeast Asia. Both countries also agreed on several measures in an effort to strengthen their ties, including facilitation of a free-trade agreement and active exchanges of culture and people from all walks of life while considering the next generation.
But one thing unchanged in the summit was that even though our government pursued a practical agreement, its citizens followed the old practice of trying to highlight Japan’s “original sin” against Koreans. If we continue to bind the future to the yoke of the past, we cannot easily achieve mature and constructive relations with Japan. In particular, some Korean media and people were busy criticizing Japan’s passage of the emergency military bills instead of focusing on what was discussed in the meeting. Japan’s process of normalization should not be condemned as a right-wing attempt. What Japan wants for a change is to be prepared with authority and readiness so that it can protect itself from external threats. Also, Japan wishes to display a political power matching its economic power in the international community. As long as Japan opposes nuclear armaments and has no intention of self-righteously managing Northeast Asia, we should have the wisdom to utilize Japan’s expanded role in security issues for our security interests.
While mutually increasing the transparency of military moves, we should make efforts to consolidate cooperative ties to deter threats from North Korea in the short term and to foster regional stability and common prosperity in the long term. It is Japan’s dilemma, not ours, that it cannot free itself from the shackles of a peace constitution and cannot call self-defense forces “military” forces while repeatedly changing domestic laws and busily resorting to arbitrary interpretations of its constitution.
Korean people also need to be free from the unconditional hatred against Japan which our people exhibited collectively whenever there were any outbreaks of disgraceful events regarding the problems of past history. It is also Japan’s problem, not ours, that the Japanese government publicly acknowledged the mobilization of Korean women to comfort its soldiers under Japanese rule but would not compensate them, that it feels bitter against Koreans for incessantly demanding an apology, and that it maintains distorted regular educational programs which continuously indoctrinate students with the awareness of Japan’s victimization by atomic bombing while neglecting the awareness of the offender with regard to the responsibility of war.
Japan’s “dwarfishness” ― rejecting efforts to clean up the past and adapt to the future as thoroughly as Germany did ― is Japan’s destiny, for which Korea cannot offer any solutions. Ironically, if Japan were equipped with mature regional leadership along with its national strength, wouldn’t it become a strong power much more fearsome to us? When South Korea becomes a more influential country armed with power and capabilities, history will be corrected on its own.
Another thing wanting in the summit was that President Roh should have attempted more close and specific consultations on the North Korean nuclear issue that will determine peace on the Korean Peninsula and South Korea-United States relations. Based on its one-step-closer cooperative relations with Washington, Japan has already begun “tougher measures” against North Korea. The Roh administration should seek ways to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem while avoiding military confrontation, but it would not be desirable if its excessive prudence gives an impression that it neglects making any efforts to reinforce the cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan. The summit left many points in Seoul-Tokyo relations unresolved. Our relations should no longer be confined to the past, when we were obsessed with cause and face saving. Let’s lead Japan-Korea relations to a larger and broader perspective.
* The writer is a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.
by Kim Tae-hyo