[VIEWPOINT]Don’t overreact in Tokto fight

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[VIEWPOINT]Don’t overreact in Tokto fight

South Korea-Japan relations appeared revived with the establishment of the year of friendship, but the territorial dispute over the Tokto islands and Japan’s nationalistic textbooks have frozen the relations between the two countries.
The beginning of the disaster was the Shimane prefecture’s attempt to establish “Takeshima Day.” Ignoring Koreans’ emotions, Japan provoked them by claiming the Tokto islands as its own. As Japanese Foreign Minister Nobunaka Machimura has already pointed out, the effective control over the islands does not change even if the prefecture government establishes Takeshima Day.
Making the declaration of Takeshima Day, however, is a symbolic, diplomatic action. The Japanese government must prove that its diplomatic authorities do not belong to the regional government, but belong to the central government.
The Shimane prefecture’s government has sent the matter into the wrong direction. Because it was dissatisfied with fishing activities in the waters east of the Korean Peninsula, the regional government tried to pick a fight by raising the territorial issue over Tokto.
Fishing rights and Tokto are matters of a different level. Territorial rights are a part of sovereignty, and there is no room for compromise.
That is what Seoul means when it says Tokto takes priority over Japan-South Korea relations. As long as Japan raises the Tokto issue, tensions, with no compromise in sight, will continue.
The Japanese government always says there is nothing it can do when a conflict arises between the two countries. Tokyo used to say that the matters concerned pertain to the regional government, to a civilian organization or to a private religious facility. That makes sense, but it is the wrong move diplomatically.
Unless a central government intervenes, those attempting to undermine the friendship between the two countries will be implicitly left alone and gain power.
The South Korean government is trying not to provoke Japan, but not because the central government has more power in this country. Seoul is seeing this matter as an important issue that could threaten the two countries’ friendship.
This year is the South Korea-Japan friendship year. To make the year successful, the two countries must make every effort. The Tokto dispute will end the Korean pop culture fad in Japan and put a damper on South Korean youngsters’ friendly feelings toward Japan. Koreans have developed diversified perceptions of the Japanese, but Japan appears to kill such developments.
When South Korea and Japan quarrel, there are always others who benefit from the fight. When South Korea-Japan relations worsen, voices calling for cooperation between the two Koreas gain power in South and North Korea. That will buy more time for North Korea, which aims to develop nuclear arms.
In addition, the historical dispute with China will be shadowed by the Tokto issue. Japan must make a clear choice about whether expanding the Tokto dispute will help its national interests or not.
Quiet diplomacy will not work to a partner that intends to provoke. Koreans, however, have to refrain from emotional responses to the Tokto and history textbook issues. Even if a Japanese regional government claims the islands, South Korea’s territory will not become a part of Japan. There is no need to panic, and Koreans must not act hastily. With confidence, it is possible to cope with the matter with flexibility.
Territory is a matter of sovereignty, and we must protect it at all cost. But linking the territorial issue with other matters should be the last resort. South Korea has effective control over the islands, so there is no need to provoke Japan’s emotions.
Koreans should not respond too emotionally. When they raise their voices too much, that can only be seen as an expression of a persecution complex. There is no need to criticize all the Japanese over this matter. It is not all of Japan that’s to blame. It’s politically radical groups that are attempting to harm the friendship between the two countries that deserve the criticism.
Koreans should show that these groups will not benefit Japan and are responsible for the worsened relations between the two countries.
There is an urgent need to build a strategic communication channel between the post-war generations of the two countries, who can better understand each other. The next generation of leaders of South Korea and Japan must nurture the renewed life between the two countries.

* The writer is a professor at the Graduate School of International Studies at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Park Cheol-hee
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