[OUTLOOK]Hopes, Regrets Surround Koizumi's Visit

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[OUTLOOK]Hopes, Regrets Surround Koizumi's Visit

Recent media reports have criticized the government for agreeing to the visit of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan. The visit comes as Russia and Japan want to bar fishing by third countries in the waters around the southern Kuril Islands, a matter that fills Koreans with rage.

But whatever issues are involved - glossing over history textbooks, neglecting Japanese war crimes and Mr. Koizumi's official visit to the Yasukuni Shrine - it is not polite for us to ask Mr. Koizumi to apologize for anything before he visits Korea. No matter how important those issues are, Mr. Koizumi, the prime minister of an allied neighboring nation, is willing to make a state visit to Korea for the first time since he was inaugurated six months ago. Asking him to apologize before he gets here is like asking him to come to us with a white surrender flag.

The Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, which comprises some right-wing scholars and conservatives in Japan, is pushing forward with embellishing and justifying Japanese history. The right-wing group's attempt may lead Japan's next generation to resuscitate the militarism of the 1930s or to turn back the clock of history. That's why we Koreans have watched the textbook and the Yasukuni Shrine issues with intense worry.

Of course, some Japanese may long for restoring the past glories of Japan's imperialism. But as we witnessed in the textbook adoption process, the number of those Japanese are really minor.

We should distinguish between sound Japanese, who dream of Japan's democratic future in the 21st century, from those who dream of the resurrection of militarism.

In Korea-Japan relations, it is true that each other's perception of history is important and the perception becomes the basis for mutual trust and friendship. But perceptions of history are not everything in relations between Korea and Japan. Never advancing forward because of ties to past history is an undesirable trait.

The management of a nation should be performed with cool-headed calculations and strategy. As I read a news report that said Korean fishermen would be barred from a saury fishing area in the waters of the southern Kuril Islands, I wondered why our government doesn't have just a little bit of acumen and courage.

Japan had sent high-ranking officials of the Foreign Ministry several times to solve the dispute over fishing rights in the waters of the southern Kuril, and asked us to reach an agreement without damaging Japan's sovereignty over the Kuril Islands. But our government did not have the courage to accept Japan's offer at that time. That's deplorable!

If the government dared to accept Japan's offer at that time, our fishermen could now fish in the waters off Sanriku, as well as in the waters of the southern Kuril Islands.

Abandoning that chance can be construed as an unyielding spirit called national emotion. Only an irresponsible government would neglect its own national interest. It is time for us to think of survival strategies in the globalized world more seriously than any other time.

At the same time, Japan also should offer more careful consideration so that neighboring nations have fewer reasons to harbor distrust in Japan.

It was really hard for me to find any aspect of what the second largest economic superpower and a peace-loving country should show when Japan dealt with issues like the distortions of history textbooks, Mr. Koizumi's official visit to the Yasukuni shrine and the fishing rights dispute in the waters off the Kurils.

Japan should play a leading role suitable for its economic power in international society. Japan should reflect on its past wrongdoings, at least for the sake of its future.

In particular, Japan should be fully aware of the fact that postwar Japan is completely different from prewar Japan, and Japan needs to act so in order to let Asian countries know that difference. It is true that prewar Japan used to deliver a great deal of damage and pain to neighboring countries, the result of bad judgments.

But by devoting sweat and tears, postwar Japan achieved brilliant economic growth, settled parliamentary democracy and adhered to a resolute peace policy. Japan needs to let the world know its achievements and endeavors for peace and democracy. While taking pride in what postwar Japan has achieved, Japan should determine to humbly reflect on the wrongdoings of prewar Japan.

It's my hope that the "progressive thinking" that Japan mentioned at the advance negotiations between diplomatic officials of both countries can take a visible form through Prime Minister Koizumi's state visit to Korea, and that his visit will contribute to the promotion of Korea-Japan relations.


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The writer, a former foreign minister, is a professor emeritus of international relations at Dongguk University.


by Gong Ro-myung

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