[NOTEBOOK]Korea’s place in the neighborhood

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[NOTEBOOK]Korea’s place in the neighborhood

Japanese car maker Toyota recently apologized publicly, placing ads in about 30 Chinese newspapers saying, “We express our sincere apology for creating unpleasant feelings among the Chinese people.” The incident began with the firm’s ads in a car magazine.
One of the troublesome advertisements depicted a Chinese-style stone-carved lion on a bridge railing saluting a moving Toyota car, along with the slogan “We can’t help respecting you!” Chinese people were indignant at this ad, leaving messages on Web sites. One of them read, “The bridge in the ad reminds us of the Marco Polo Bridge, where Japanese imperial troops launched an invasion of China.” In other words, the ads humiliated and hurt the feelings of Chinese people.
Some Japanese also caused a commotion at a foreign language festival held by the Foreign Language School in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, China. Three Japanese students and a professor performed an “obscene” dance, wearing red bras and attaching paper cups to their lower abdominal areas as a symbol of the male genital.
Chinese professors and students stopped their dancing on the spot, and the next day over 1,000 Chinese students swarmed to the Japanese student dormitory, staging a protest demonstration and calling for an apology.
Chinese people have increasingly shown hysterical collective responses to a string of Japanese-related incidents lately, including an alleged incident of mass prostitution involving Japanese tourists. Chinese people’s complaints and resentments sometimes seemed to be a little excessive. So I asked a Chinese reporter for the People’s Daily, who visited Seoul recently, how much he sympathized with the Chinese protests. He had been a correspondent in Tokyo, so he might be considered someone who understands Japan.
He gave an unexpected answer: “Europe is achieving political and economic integration led by Germany and France, but the integration of Northeast Asia can never be led by China and Japan alone. Korea must join them by all means.” He may have been indicating in a roundabout manner that the Chinese have a deep antagonism toward Japan.
If that is the case, what role does China expect from Korea? Does it feel some sense of psychological stability when it deals with Japan together with Korea, which experienced Japanese colonial rule?
Could it mean that the “consciousness of kind” between Korea and China as victims of history might overcome the Chinese people’s rejection of the economic integration of the three countries? Trade among the three countries reveals some interesting aspects. China has posted a surplus in its trade with Japan, but a deficit with Korea. On the other hand, Korea has recorded a surplus in its trade with China, but a deficit with Japan. Of course, Korea’s deficit with Japan is much larger than its surplus with China.
A Japanese diplomat confided: “Chinese diplomats I met at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York in the late 1970s were like frogs in the well. Whatever issues were presented at the UN Security Council, the only criterion they used was whether the country in question had diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
“But China was different when it hosted the six-way talks on the North Korean nuclear problem recently. I was quite impressed with China, which tried to carry out its responsibility as a leader in the international community. But then, I couldn’t help thinking again. Is it O.K. to complacently accept China, which is raising its profile in the international political arena? Frankly, it is a challenging question to answer.”
His remarks revealed Japan’s vague fear over China as it is. Wouldn’t Korea’s survival mode in the 21st century lie hidden between the mutual distrust and fear of China and Japan?

* The writer is international news editor of the JoonAng Ilbo.


by Lee Jae-hak
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