[OUTLOOK]National dignity must come first

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[OUTLOOK]National dignity must come first

On the anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement, President Roh Moo-hyun talked about the need for Japan to compensate victims of its past abuses. It’s an issue that stretches back to the time South Korea and Japan normalized diplomatic ties with a treaty in 1965, which stipulated that all compensation claims had been “completely and finally” resolved.
We used the money from Japan as seed money for industrialization, including establishing steelmaker Posco. If we are eligible for more money, we should naturally seek it. But Japan reacts by asking, “What compensation should we make again when we signed the treaty and gave all the money?”
Our foreign minister said Mr. Roh did not mean to demand that Japan offer more compensation but instead was urging Japan to take sincere measures to help the victims of its colonial rule. Basically, what he was saying was, “Although we signed the treaty, spend some more money on us.”
There are some scholars who support this position, saying newly revealed abuses, such as those pertaining to “comfort women,” warrant new negotiations with Japan. The easiest thing to do is to blame Japan. The Korean professor who said that the age of Japan’s colonial rule was a “blessing” has apparently lost his mind. Sufferings from colonial rule are shared by us all. So the louder you blame Japan, the more you become a patriot.
No one will be opposed even if we ask Japan for more compensation, but Korea has already signed a treaty. Even if we signed it out of ignorance, it was our responsibility to perform due diligence. Our grandfathers were naive and the circumstances were urgent, so they signed the contract to settle claims.
But fortunately they managed the money wisely, and now the grandson generation has reaped the rewards. If we insist on getting more money because our forefathers made a mistake, even though we are better off, what would others think of the family? A contract is a contract, whether it’s between countries or individuals.
It would be better for us not to talk about the past wrongdoings of Japan anymore ― we should be ashamed of still clinging to the past even though 60 years has passed since the liberation. How long are we going to have our sons and daughters live as slaves to the past?
Some say we should recall the past because Japan hasn’t truly repented. Repentance is Japan’s business and responsibility. The Japanese have their limits, so what can we do about that? Would they not change their ways if we, those who have suffered, treat them with an open-minded attitude? Even if they behave shamelessly toward us, the international community would give us higher marks for the way we conduct ourselves.
Even if we feel the compensation unfair, let us resolve the disputes over the sex slaves and the forced laborers by our own efforts, now that our economy is better off.
But now the government is going backward. It is unable to act straightforwardly when it should, and it is just finding fault with things that were settled long ago.
It is the same with the problem of the Tokto islands. Tokto is our land. The Japanese ambassador to Korea said in Seoul that Tokto is Japan’s land. How did the situation deteriorate to this point? It’s because our government took an indecisive attitude toward the Tokto issue, which should have been addressed directly.
There are small reefs the size of two beds on the Pacific Ocean 1,700 kilometers to the south of the Japanese islands, the Okinotori islands. When waves come, the reefs are submerged. It is quite touching to see Japan’s efforts to preserve these islands. Japan prevents rocks from being washed away by pouring concrete on the islands.
If people live on those islands or make use of them economically, the sea becomes part of Japan’s economic zone. For this purpose, Japan plans to create a fish farm and build an artificial runway there.
If our government’s concern for the Tokto islands was even a tenth of Japan’s concern for the Okinotori islands, Japan would not have behaved as it did in the Tokto dispute. If the Korean government had sought ways to make use of the Tokto Islands economically and made people live there, even if it cost money, our economic zone would have become that much wider.
But our government’s policy was to avoid disturbing relations with Japan because the islands are already within our territory. So when a Korean police chief wanted to tour Tokto to encourage the police squad there, the Korean government stopped him, saying such a move could lead to a dispute. As a result, Japan may have thought, “If so, we can claim the islands as ours.”
Open diplomacy demands that we clearly proclaim that Tokto is ours and that we no longer raise questions over Japanese compensation, which has already been settled by the 1965 treaty.
It’s a mistake to bring up Japan’s past abuses because Japan claimed Tokto. Raising questions over unrelated issues is useless and makes Korea look foolish. The Korean government shouldn’t shame its citizens with its poor diplomacy.

* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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