[TODAY]Maybe the Victim Must Start the Healing

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[TODAY]Maybe the Victim Must Start the Healing

President Kim Dae-jung met editors of Asian newspapers who participated in a press forum on Sept. 17. When asked about a solution to the serious Korea-Japan conflict and the possibility of holding a Korea-Japan summit, President Kim answered, "I will meet Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi anytime if Japan solves the trouble they have caused."

President Kim pressed Mr. Koizumi to take responsibility for the diplomatic mess Japan has caused. I gathered from the gist of the announcement of Mr. Koizumi's Korea visit that the two leaders had reached an agreement behind the scenes on an apology over Japan's colonization of Korea and its past atrocities, the controversy over the history textbook published by Japanese rightists, contested South Korean fishing rights off the Kuril Islands and the Japanese leader's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese war dead, including A-class war criminals, are enshrined.

However, all this turned out to be illusions. The government misled the people to expect this progress. Mr. Koizumi's Korea visit was accepted unconditionally by the Korean government in haste after Mr. Koizumi's China visit was agreed on. The visit enabled Mr. Koizumi to tell the world that Japan has done its best to restore the relationship between Korea and Japan.

Needless to say, the pending issues between Korea and Japan are the distortions of history, Prime Minister Koizumi's visit to Yasukuni shrine and the South Korean fishing rights off Kuril Islands. Mr. Koizumi provided no substantial solutions to them. The extent of Mr. Koizumi's apology did not exceed that of his predecessors. Mr. Koizumi proposed a history research committee and turned over the fishing rights issue to working level diplomats.

But let's be cool headed. Expecting big concessions from Japan on these issues is not realistic. Japan has always maintained the position that it has paid enough compensation and made appropriate apologies toward Korea. No Japanese prime minister can cross that line without facing a domestic political crisis.

In 1970, Willy Brandt, the West German prime minister, visited the former Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. He bowed on his knees in front of the memorial monument to the 500,000 Jews killed by the Nazis during the holocaust and apologized for the cruelty committed by the Germans. However, Japan is not Germany and Mr. Koizumi, as were his predecessors, is not Willy Brandt.

The Japanese can never measure up to the Germans in assessing themselves, including their past, objectively and they do not have the moral courage that the Germans do. Germans are more philosophical and more used to abstract thinking; whereas the Japanese are more sensual.

The former German president, Richard von Weizsaecker, warned that people who ignore the ills of their past repeat their wrongs. Willy Brandt said that no people can escape their history. However, these words fell on the deaf ears of Japanese leaders.

In a hundred years, no Japanese prime minister will bend his knees in search of forgiveness in front of the Independence Park in Seodaemun. It would be more realistic to expect Japan's younger generations to reject the distorted history textbook. The number of schools adopting the rightist textbook is far less than the expectations of its publishers, and that is encouraging.

Considering the domestic political situation in Japan, Mr. Koizumi did not have much freedom over his actions during his visit. However, he visited Seodaemun Park to be the first Japanese prime minister to be there and expressed his shock at Japan's cruelty toward Koreans.

The terrorist attacks on the United States and the "white powder" scare demonstrate how widely terror can affect the global community and that the war against terrorism cannot be won without an international coalition.

We have to grapple with the problem in an assertive manner. Mr. Weizsaecker said in an interview in 1995 with the Japanese press that reconciliation through forgiveness can be initiated not by the assailant but by the victim. In the Korea-Japan relation Korea should hold out its hand towards Japan for reconciliation - not Japan towards Korea.

We do not have the diplomatic leverage strong enough to force Japan to apologize. Therefore, it is impossible to receive a satisfactory apology from Japan or force Japan to make history textbooks that say what we want them to say. However, Korea cannot ignore Japan forever due to the geographical closeness.

We should change the paradigm of the Korea-Japan relationship into a win-win position. This is not defeatism but forgiveness and tolerance of the victim towards the aggressor.


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The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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