[OUTLOOK]Treaty disclosure rights wrongs

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[OUTLOOK]Treaty disclosure rights wrongs

Documents covering the South Korea-Japan agreement in 1965 that the government made public this week are causing controversy.
In particular, the discussion focuses on the problem of compensation for the suffering individuals underwent during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Forty years have already passed and many people who should have received compensation have already passed away. But, albeit belatedly, part of the truth is being disclosed.
Many people are resentful of the attitude of the Korean and the Japanese governments upon seeing the contents of the documents. The Korean government was eager to obtain economic development funds without making clear an understanding with Japan on the compensation issue and explanations regarding the Japanese occupation. The Japanese government looked away from the compensation problem in order not to acknowledge legal responsibilities for its colonial rule. The true picture of that time is being revealed.
The governments skipped over sensitive issues in the agreement. The two governments differed on the timing when treaties covering the annexation of Korea signed in 1905 and 1910 would expire. Both governments had agreed on the phrase “already invalid,” but Japan interpreted this phrase as being invalid from 1945, and Korea interpreted it as the treaty itself being invalid. The disclosed documents show that the Korean government suggested handling the problematic issues domestically. This part simply tells us of the government’s irresponsible treatment of the issues.
With the public disclosure of the documents this time, the Korean and the Japanese governments would have to undertake legal and moral responsibilities for the hastily handled agreement. But a hasty response is apt to bring about a wrong result. All of the documents have not been made public yet, and there has been no proper analysis of what has been released either.
It was just 60 years ago that a hasty agreement among three foreign ministers of the United States, Britain and the former Soviet Union at the Moscow conference resulted in the division of the Korean Peninsula. We should take this opportunity to solve the following problems.
First of all, not only documents on the Korea-Japan talks, but also materials related to suspicious parts of modern history should be disclosed. If the materials are not disclosed because of concern they will cause controversy, suspicions will grow larger like a snowball. The disclosure of only certain documents will also lead to more suspicion. The disclosed documents do not show the entire picture of the Korea-Japan talks.
Second, a serious study of our entire modern history is required. As the documents on the Korea-Japan agreement are disclosed, there are arguments for placing the responsibility on the two governments.
But what is more important is to find the reasons for having entered the Korea-Japan agreement without agreeing on the controversial matters. What should be noted in this regard is the role of the United States at that time.
The United States urged the Korean and Japanese governments to normalize their diplomatic ties. The United States not only settled the differences in the amount of the claim between Korea and Japan but also was an interested party. The U.S. military government in Korea confiscated the property of Japanese people in 1945.
Although the enemy property was transferred to the Korean government, the United States did not make an exact authoritative interpretation of this matter. The disclosure of the role at that time of the United States will provide an important clue to uncovering the reasons why the Korea-Japan agreement had to be dealt with in haste.
But along with the Vietnam War that was the background to the Korea-Japan treaty and the success of China’s nuclear weapons experiment, the role of the United States in the agreement cannot be explained by the documents regarding the Korea-Japan agreement.
I applaud the government that belatedly publicized the documents to bring truth to light. I expect the remaining documents to be disclosed through a transparent process without any political purposes.
A close examination of the truth will be the first step to individual compensation. It will also help establish future relations between South Korea and Japan, and lead to the improvement in relations between North Korea and Japan that will pave the way for peace in Northeast Asia.

* The writer is a professor of history at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Park Tae-kyun
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