[FORUM]Cooperation a must in regionIn the Northeast Asian region these days, the relations among Korea, China and Japan are unfolding in a confused and complicated way. Over the initiative of interpreting the past and predicting the future, the chauvinistic nationalisms of the regional powers collide against each other in a low and rude manner.
China’s attempt to claim part of Korean history as its own, the visit by Japanese rightist politicians to the Yasukuni Shrine where war criminals from the Pacific War are honored, the conflict over the islands known as Senkaku and over Taiwan, and the despicable behavior some Chinese fans showed at the Asian Cup are all signs of this vulgar nationalism.
Of course, there is a more important move toward cooperation and reconciliation that far outstrips the conflict of chauvinistic nationalism. The volume of exchange and trade among Korea, China and Japan has already exceeded that in any other region. The boom of Korean popular culture in the region, the joint hosting of the World Cup Games in 2002 by Japan and Korea and the surge in Korean students’ interest in learning Chinese and studying in China are all signs of cultural amalgamation and acceptance.
As we could even see at the Olympic Games in Athens, Korea, China and Japan symbolically show the growing power of the Northeast Asian region. It is natural that the people of these countries should be confident and act vigorously.
However, this confidence has yet to grow in the direction of overcoming the tragic history of the region, which had to suffer under imperialism and ideological strife and conflict during the 19th and 20th centuries. The Cold War is still continuing in Northeast Asia, albeit with a different face.
Although China has become an international economic power through experiments with capitalism, it still has the rough manner of a big power that maintains the system ruled by authoritarianism and Communist Party dictatorship.
Japan also might be in a long-term recession right now, but it prides itself on being the most developed democracy and the champion of human rights in Asia. However, some of the extreme rightists take this too far and act as if they even have the right to support the war criminals of the fascist imperial army in the past.
Although South Korea has become confident with its increasing national power and is actively seeking ways to reconcile with the North, it has also recently started showing signs of estrangement from its biggest ally during the Cold War, the United States.
If the three countries overcome this situation with wisdom, the Northeast Asian region will greet a bright new future with dynamism and confidence.
Of course, there are many who foresee a gloomy future for this region based on what they see as an inevitable rivalry between China and Japan. These people say that in the end, Japan will ride on the world strategy of the United States and that the U.S.-Japan axis will inevitably clash with China. In their opinion, Korea, too, should join the U.S.-Japan axis without further delay.
However, history is not all that shallow and filled with determinism. It would have been wrong to conclude that a great war was inevitable between the United States and the former Soviet Union because, like Athens and Sparta, the former was a sea power and a democracy while the latter was a continental power and a communist regime. Besides, in the case of the Peloponnesian War, Sparta was the victor.
Nothing is inevitable in history. While external restrictions do exist, human behavior is voluntary. That is why the three countries of Korea, China and Japan should not become victims to chauvinistic nationalism and foreign-dependent ideology.
Japan must break out of the security net that the United States has provided, and China should dispel the concerns of neighboring countries that it is trying to become a hegemonic power. Korea should actively pursue reunification with North Korea and cooperation and reconciliation with its Northeast Asian neighbors. That is the only way the Korean Peninsula and the Korean people will avoid experiencing the scourge of war again and will pacify the rival sentiments of China and Japan over the leadership of the region.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Seok-hwan