[OUTLOOK]History rears its head again

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[OUTLOOK]History rears its head again

President Roh Moo-hyun recently proclaimed that Japan must apologize and offer compensation, if necessary. His remarks seem to be an expression of his determination to improve relations between South Korea and Japan by removing historical problems that block the progress of bilateral relations.
But the response of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and media was deplorable. Mr. Koizumi glossed over President Roh’s remarks as designed for domestic politics. The Japanese media also undercut their significance by labeling them political remarks that took into consideration the stirred sentiments of the Korean people over Tokto island.
If Japan keeps up this insincere attitude, it will be hard to avoid a diplomatic conflict between the two countries.
The National Assembly’s Culture and Tourism Committee adopted a resolution to urge the government to review the festivities that were planned as part of celebrations for the Year of Korea-Japan Friendship. Lawmakers of the Japanese ruling Liberal Democratic Party also postponed their plans to visit South Korea to discuss the North Korean nuclear problem.
President Roh’s remarks on compensation seem to have something to do with the disclosure of documents related to the normalization of relations with Japan in 1965. President Roh himself made clear again the Korean government’s determination to break through the problem of Japan’s past wrongdoings.
The focus of attention was his remarks on compensation from Japan. In talking about Korea’s responsibility in the issue of compensation, he was the first Korean president to raise the question of compensation from Japan. This increased the possibility that bilateral relations will be entangled in historical problems from now on.
President Roh’s remarks that compensation should be made, if necessary, seem to rebut Japan’s position that the issue of compensation for Korean victims under the Japanese colonial rule was concluded after the South Korea-Japan Basic Treaty of 1965 was signed.
Mr. Roh’s remarks can be interpreted as a demand that Japan should respond to the calls for compensation at least at an individual level, regarding the sex slaves for Japanese soldiers, atomic bomb victims and ethnic Koreans in Sakhalin who were forced into hard labor, problems that were not raised during the previous negotiations.
Until now, Japan has not only been passive in resolving the problem of its past abuses but also published distorted history textbooks and repeated remarks that rationalized its colonial rule. On top of that, Japan has pursued military power and come forward to revise its peace constitution.
Mr. Roh’s remarks not only clarified his stance to directly deal with the problem of Japan’s past but also pointed to an effective strategy to cope with the Tokto problem, which has been frequently raised. Although this year is the Year of Korea-Japan Friendship, our government failed to suggest the direction of the commemoration of the anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement after Shimane prefecture council submitted an ordinance to create “Takeshima Day” (Takeshima is what the Japanese called Tokto) and the Japanese ambassador to South Korea declared that Tokto was a part of Japan.
South Korea and Japan have lots of things to do on the diplomatic level to establish the direction of their relations. It is not desirable for the two countries to try to solve these problems in a way that stirs up nationalist sentiments.
It is very regrettable that Mr. Koizumi dismissed President Roh’s remarks as pandering to domestic politics” If the two governments fail to deal with the compensation issue wisely, Korea-Japan relations may be aggravated to the point of chaos.
In a situation where close joint cooperation is needed to solve the North Korean nuclear problem for peace in Northeast Asia, both countries should be careful in how they deal with these latest disputes.
As Germany did in the past, Japan can break free from the past through ascertaining the truth and offering an apology and compensation based on truthful self-reflection.
In negotiations between countries, additional negotiations can be made if a new fact is revealed or their necessity is acknowledged. The South Korea-Japan Basic Treaty of 1965 did not even address the problem of the Korean sex slaves at that time and contains many problems that have arisen later. South Korea and Japan should review additional negotiations prudently, mindful of the new age in Northeast Asia.

* The writer is a professor of Korean History at The Academy of Korean Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Yoo Byong-yong
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